Yeah, it’s a dumb phrase. Sounds like some sort of hillbilly slang, meant to offend.
Kayak enough and you’ll hear it, too. Maybe mockery, maybe in earnest. The line between parody and sincerity blurs.
But take it in stride.
Yes, good sir or madam, I am going yakking.
Out on the water, drifting with the currents, hunting for the negative ions produced at the pounding base of waterfalls, penetrating deeper inland along dreamy water-built byways. And a good day to you.
It’s true. Away from the busy routine of the city, away from the noise of the road traffic, floating on the waterways, held up by courteous buoyancy.
Paddling upstream in the Eddyville section of the Rondout Creek. Tall walls of trees own the banks absolutely, crowded against each other in that slower-than-the-eye competition for sunlight, race to the top beset by climbing vines that strangle plus the chemical warfare practiced by the vegetation down lower to the ground. Pine trees drop their needles to smother plant life below. Anything that dies at the foot of a tree, the roots will drink up the remains. Trees are patient.
But from the water, immersed in this green gestalt, leave off paddling and drift. Meditate and be mindful. Whatever you call it, stop thinking. Listen with an empty mind. Depending on the hour, the water is the same color as the sky. Depending on the remoteness, without the proof and sounds of civilization, it is just like it was 300 years ago. Or even a thousand.
Go back centuries. The rivers were here. The trees. Another people, yes, but not us.
Which is strange to think about. They also drifted down the water. No doubt about it.
As did almost everyone who ever lived near a river.
Kayaking is similar to learning the words and music to a very old love song lost and forgotten.
Memories which slumber in the blood awaken.
Outfitting the adventure
What you do is get on Craigslist. No need for a Pungo or an Old Town Castine or a Valkyrie or whatever other dagger-thin, ultralong, foldable watercraft the hardcore kayaking geeks are using to charge out into the open ocean. They’re not hunting Stingray. Neither are the loud-talking, lycra’d sheathed bike riders in Prospect Park actually going to compete in the Tour de France. Don’t worry about these noisy extroverts.
Here to be shared is the recollection of a man proud of the length of his kayak.
“Anything less than 14 feet,” said he, consummating a Craigslist deal in a parking lot, “was a pool toy.”
Never mind him.
For any price under $200, a used Pelican is fine. They’re a trash-brand pool toy, but hard to tip over. They float. They’re thick within reason and relatively light. They’re so stable one could lie back, fall asleep, and drift along the river.
Get one of those double-bladed paddles that separate in the middle of the shaft by depressing a spring-loaded ball. And you’re off to the swim meet, provided you can get there.
The most popular style of apparatus used to mount the kayak on the car roof are called J hooks. Really, a kayak can be placed upside down on the roof of a sedan and firmly ratchet strapped into place through the open windows of the back-seat passenger window frames if necessary. But no one wants to be traveling along even at 40 miles an hour and see a ten-foot kayak disappear in the rear-view mirror like a wind sail. Use at least two 500-pound ratchet straps. Some cautious souls tie their vessels by stem and by stern to the towing rings under the bumpers.
Other necessary accouterments for practical kayaking include river shoes. An old pair of sneakers will do. A headlamp for straggling after the sunset. A waterproof bag, known as a drybag, to keep water away from the cellphone or other selected perishables. A ziplock bag will do in a pinch.
Wear a straw hat to keep the sun off your face. Wear loud colors to exaggerate your visibility. Invest in a length of para-cord and a folding knife. Good advice for life in general.
And there is the issue of drowning. For the purposes of responsible recreating, life vests are to be considered mandatory equipment, even on a placid lake.
One will also be thought wise to note whether the rubber cork is plugged into the scupper. Usually located on the topside rear of the vessel, the scupper is a hole for draining water taken on during the adventure.
From here on out, it’s pure improvisation.
Where to go?
Kingston Point Beach
Beginner to intermediate
This is by far the easiest spot to enter the water. The sandy shore of Kingston Point Beach gradually declines into the Hudson, and a large cement launch allows for watercraft of all sizes to enter the water. Jet skis are popular. Stay near the shore.
On weekend nights, Kingston Point Beach is a convenient spot to barbecue, set up a PA system, play DJ, dance, swim, see and be seen. Excellent backdrop to casual kayaking. Headlamps suggested.
Unfortunately for the beach party, the newest iteration of Hudson Valley luxury moved into the brickyard next door, and after-dusk parking in the lot there occasionally has been closed by the city government when the volume of the revelry interferes with the wedding festivities over at the brickyard’s outdoor pavilion.
But this won’t be a problem in the daytime.
Veer your kayak to the left and get a look at the bougie riverbank glamping structures from the water. Or keep heading north to a massive old warehouse on the water full of screaming birds.
Or veer downriver instead, paddle around past the storage tanks to Kingston Point Park, the terminus of that portion of the rail-trail where the train tracks allow the arrival of a trolley with a gay and festive whistle for the conductor to pull on the weekends. Children adore it.
Depending on what the tide is doing, a small wooden walking bridge arches up, allowing entry into a protected wetland cove of sorts. Beavers have been observed there. When displeased, they’ll slap the water with their fat tails.
Rondout Creek, Eddyville
A dirt parking lot with a rope swing off the side of Creek Locks Road in Eddyville is what comprises the Rondout Creek waterway access. A humble graded launch allows you to walk right in. Head downstream a short way to capitalize on the release of negative ions from what amounts to a waterfall — the old stone weir built long ago by the Army Corps of Engineers. The never-ending rush of water over the edge can increase or decrease depending on how much water from the Wallkill River the Sturgeon Pool hydro dam upriver lets through.
An unidentified man fishing just below the weir once confided that the water level increases every day around three o’clock. Though he claimed to be a local, some people will tell you anything.
Head upstream to what may be one of the best stretches of creek anywhere in the Hudson Valley. It’s deep enough so that rocks aren’t a problem, and if the exertion becomes tiring, you can let the creek carry the kayak back to the beginning.
Away from the hyper-stimulation that defines the end of this epoch in the progress of humankind, the physical world as it is reasserts itself.
At first, by comparison, this can manifest as boredom. The dopamine receptors have become badly calibrated for the actual requirements of living. The nervous system is threadbare or numb from flashing lights and repetitive commercial interaction. How can the wind in the leaves and fall colors compete?
They can. According to John Burroughs, local woodsman hero and scribbler with a philosophical bent, all that is required for happiness are books, friends and nature. Not to quibble with the dead, but his taste for happiness seems unnecessarily limited. Quote Nikos Kazantzakis instead, another dead writer, and all that is required here and now to feel happiness is a frugal heart. Note that Kazantzakis did not define the things that can bring happiness, only suggested a way in which we can receive them.
In this stretch of the Rondout is a holy place in the most primeval sense of the word. Of this place no more will be said. Search for it or not, recognize it or not.
There’s space to park on a loose gravel turnout heading south on Route 213 just before Rifton proper. Look across the dark blue body of water that is Sturgeon Pool for the eagle’s nest high atop a pine tree.
Dammed, the Wallkill River feels like a small landlocked ocean. Floating above the dam, one can paddle right up to the edge. A rope interspersed with floating rubber fenders has been laid out across the top of the water, designed to save the reckless from themselves and certain disaster.
The intrepid kayaker is vulnerable on this wide sea to sudden ambush by storm clouds appearing from behind the Catskills. Churning waters and rippling waves, freshwater sea spray can be goaded on by thunderstorms and buffeted by bellicose winds. These things are possible at the Sturgeon Pool.
The Dashville hydroelectric station does increase the output of the Wallkill River from time to time. Heed the siren.
Intermediate because of boat traffic
There are a few spots to embark.
An easy paddle to the Rondout Lighthouse, closer to where the creek meets the Hudson River, a short aluminum dock juts out just past the Cornell Steamboat building which houses the Artport gallery and just a few of Robert Ianucci’s many motorcycles on East Strand Street.
Minding the arriving and departing pleasure boats, follow the jetty out to the mouth of the creek to the Rondout Lighthouse. Or cross the Rondout towards an abandoned drydock crane, an ersatz topological feature rusted into permanence above the old docks disintegrated around it. Down into the water where scuttled barges built an artificial peninsula at the tip of Port Ewen, it is said.
At the top of a the rusted crane arm, an eagles nest. Some of the choicest digs possible in the area.
Inland from the lighthouse, passing under the graceless Route 9W traffic bridge begin the docks along the water where day trippers can tie off before tying one on. The Friday-night scene boasts a collection of ruddy well-to-do retirees, young bucks in polo shirts and boat shoes, and anyone who can pilot a speedboat up from Beacon, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, Cold Spring, Hudson, Coxsackie and more farflung regions like Maryland and California.
A tacky plaque in the T.R. Gallo Waterfront Park purports to honor “all those lost at sea.” A slew of restaurants have capitalized on the riparian commerce. It’s unclear where kayakers can stow their vessels to come aboard.
Away from all that, take the south fork of the water inland back under the Route 9W bridge, past the marinas in Connelly, past the Kingston Power Boat Association and under the sky-high train trestle above that carries CSX boxcars over it. Past the bluestone church.
It’s a gritty, waterfront industrial scene now, with large vessels tied off, rusting into the water of the Rondout.
The zapping crackle coming from the welding torches of the Feeney shipyard, bright blue flames even in the noontime sunlight, the non-stop whoosh of compressor hoses across the creek where barges have been dragged out of the water and set above the ground on concrete footers. Angle grinders work cleaving iron and steel while the hulls are sandblasted, sometimes behind enormous shower curtains, Sometimes not.
At the scrapyard next door, the West Kingston Recycling Corporation, great steel panels are bent from the stress of tons of scrap. A giant claw on a steel brontosaurus neck dips to clutch claws full of awful scrap metal.
Keep moving inland. A great brick smokestack rises up out of the dense tree cover, a reminder of the time when the dark satanic mills of production fouled the skies in every booming city.
There’s a landing next to the Tina Chorvas Waterfront Park that puts you right into the Esopus Creek about a half-mile from the old paper factory dam, which as it produces never-ending negative ions doubles as a bonafide waterfall.
All that turbulence from the falling water kicks up a lot of suds, though. Depending on whether or not the Ashokan Reservoir is releasing large amounts of muddy overflow, the water can get turbid and foamy. Still, it’s worth it. There are rocks to sit and meditate on, in view of patrons of the newly branded Black Barn, a.k.a. the Diamond Mill, a.k.a. the paper factory.
Good place to smoke weed at if that’s still any fun now that it’s legal. Mushrooms may be next. Buoyed by scientific trial evidence, pharmaceutical companies are champing at the bit to release a a whole new class of anti-depressants onto the open market. Legislation introduced by Manhattan assemblymember Linda Rosenthal aims to do just that. Sitting on a rock at the bottom of the paper mill damn waterfall nibbling at mushrooms. Is Saugerties ready for this?
Only for the bold. Lifejacket absolutely necessary as well as an understanding of the tides. Mahicanituck, the river that flows both ways, can leave the inexperienced kayaker miles up or down the river from where they embarked.
The best time to attempt the mile-wide river crossing is during the slack tide, that peaceful hour that plays like a long rest in a sheet of music before the river switches direction again. The weather and wind also play a factor. After a spring tide, for instance, that highest of king tides which results from the phase of the moon. At that moment when the water is being sucked back out to the Atlantic, throw in a blustery wind and storm action, and the Hudson River can become just as choppy and full of whitecaps as the open ocean. Add the ever-present contrary currents under the surface to that predicament.
One is wise to pick a sunny day with a blue sky and clear visibility to play the game of dodging speed boats and barges as large as aircraft carriers, to reach the Eastern riverbank. Worst-case scenario, take shelter behind the large metal buoy and wait for a hot rodder with the rooster tail to go past. There’s really no way for a barge to sneak up that nature hasn’t provided for.
Rosendale to Eddyville on the Rondout
The town of Rosendale has not made it easy to park close to the water for the launching of kayaks. Despite this, with firm resolve it can be done. This adventure is a one-way trip. It requires logistical planning that includes a waiting car parked down at the Rondout Creek waterway access parking lot in Eddyville.
It should be noted that the creek is only passable between these two points when the water is high because of freshets in the springtime or whenever large amounts of rain fall. Take heed, however. The well-informed people at the Riverkeeper, those ornery guardians who view clean water as a bedrock principle for living, counsel everyone to stay out of the water after a heavy rain because of overflowing storm drains upriver and the runoff of the salt and muck from the surface of asphalt roads.
So it’s a tradeoff.
Drop the kayaks off and if possible the kayakers, who must accept carrying their water craft for 500 feet or so along the creek before entering the water just under the Rosendale trestle.
For those that overcome adversity, congratulations. Joppenbergh Mountain honors that spirit, and will approve and congratulate you on your way to the unseen waterfall. It’s a lazy ride through a sort of shallow riverbed with countless rocks waiting just beneath the surface. When you clear town, passing under the blue bridge at the Route 32 crossing, where police officers wait at night to sting speeders and drunks, there is more lazy drifting to come. This is a six-mile waterborne adventure, going with the flow.
Then the riverbank rises on either side, and whatever fate you were assigned has been sealed. You’ll hear the waterfall before you see it, and you won’t see it for a long time after you hear it. One could say that you won’t see it at all until you’re on top of it, going over. But the line between the tops of the falls and the sky will be apparent for anyone looking for it.
Through careful approach, one can get out and carry the kayak over jagged rocks to avoid the waterfall, which isn’t that tall. The terrain isn’t that tricky. Upper body strength will figure prominently. Never drag a kayak across rock.
But if going over the falls is your thing, be sure you wear a helmet and avoid getting a limb jammed between some underwater rocks, you’ll be fine. Broken bones mend, as the skateboarders will tell you, and drowning hurts more than falling.
One can almost hear the laughter of all the skulls buried in the earth along the riverbank. Adventure awaits!
A final note about water quality
Algal blooms are bright green and should be avoided. Algal blooms are not generally fatal to humans, but can definitely kill your dog if they drink from the water.
After a rainstorm the fecal bacteria count in the water rises. Enterococcus, the type of bacteria in question, slang name Entero, generally thrive in the guts and intestines of human beings and can survive in hot, salty, acidic environments. Take that any way you want.
River Keeper provides an online resource tracking Enterococcus bacteria counts in tributaries and waterfronts. Per 100 milliliters. zero to 60 is acceptable, above 61 is not. As recently as May 23, kayaking the bottom of the paper-factory dam a.k.a. waterfall in Saugerties may need to be avoided as the Entero count measured at Saugerties Village Beach just above the dam showed counts of 115 per 100 milliliters. Over a quarter-inch of rain was recorded in the days previous to the sampling.
For the most recent testing results available about local tributaries and rivers, check out https://www.riverkeeper.org/water-quality/citizen-data/