My theory for adventures (yes, I do have a theory) is they should not be planned too precisely. This way, the adventurers will have to deal with curveballs along the way, with hilarious and unpredictable results. They make for great reading, and can be reflected on positively by the adventurers once the panic has subsided and the mud has washed off.
The Rondout Creek originates at the Rondout Reservoir just to the south of the Catskills, skirting the backside of the Shawangunk Ridge and passing northeast through Kerhonkson and Accord before traversing through a pass in the foothills of the Shawangunks in Rosendale. My friend Morgan and I were embarking after the Rondout had met the Wallkill River in northern Rosendale and become a few hundred feet wide.
Morgan is well aware of my proclivities for lax planning, so was unflummoxed when I arrived at A Day Away Kayak rentals just south of Kingston ten minutes late. I had my own kayak, but Morgan had to rent one, and, according to my loose plan, we were to drive south along the Rondout until we arrived at an unsuspecting person’s yard I had selected on Google Maps and launch.
Cooler heads (Morgan’s) prevailed, however, and we found a fishing area to launch from along the road about a mile upriver from the kayak joint. We plunged our craft into the creek and set off.
Morgan hadn’t kayaked before, and no matter how he finessed his paddling, he kept drifting to the right and had to furiously adjust every thirty seconds in between swills from his tall boy of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. It was his day off.
“I don’t like Mike’s that much,” Morgan said. “But it’s not too bad.”
About a half-mile down the creek, Morgan craned his neck as far as it would go while the rest of him was in a kayak.
“I think there’s a waterfall up ahead.”
Waterfalls look weird from a kayaker’s perspective a few feet above the water’s surface. The creek was calm, then there seemed to be a sort of line on it, but no perceptible drop: the water before and after a waterfall seems to be unbroken.
So it was a good thing Morgan spotted the waterfall. We couldn’t really get a view of how tall it was from its top, but we estimated it had a ten-foot drop. The falls had insurmountable (with a kayak, anyway) walls on both sides, so Morgan and I discussed the pros and cons of simply plunging our craft over.
Morgan’s fear was the kayak would simply drop off the falls nose-down, drill into the rocks below and tip forward, braining him. A legitimate fear, but I tried to convince him to do it anyway.
“You should just get a bunch of speed up!” I cozened. “The kayak will just rocket over!”
I was more concerned about my kayak being damaged than my brain, which is more indicative of my high regard for my kayak than my low regard for my brain.
There were several fishing boats in the calm water just past the falls. Most of the fishermen were staring at us.
“They all have their cameras out to YouTube this,” Morgan said.
There was a slide of rock-face just on the edge of the falls with little water on it, so Morgan and I ended up muscling the kayaks down the slick rock into the pool below. We were soaked by the end of it. The hiking boots I had elected to wear were filled with water.
“We could have made it over,” Morgan said after we viewed the falls from below.
“Oh, totally,” I agreed.
Easy enough to say at that point.
IT’S A BALD EAGLE!” I screamed across the water to Morgan.
And indeed it was. I had seen the raptor in flight over the water near A Day Away Kayaks, which we passed after our waterfall adventure.
We started to paddle over.
“IT’S EATING A FUCKING FISH!!”
And so it was, tearing at the belly of the limp fish with its school bus-yellow beak.
A second bald eagle, who we will call “Baldy,” swept into view and took a perch on the same tree as the first. Morgan was having some sort of religious experience and kept on repeating how awesome it was.
“I feel like it’s a sign or something,” he said.
We drifted around the tree, taking dozens of pictures as Baldy and his mate posed heroically. I felt like singing the National Anthem.
The eagles were only the most impressive of the wildlife we saw. Prehistoric herons cruised overhead, giant fished slapped into the water after jumps, and the walls of surrounding forest were a symphony of fauna calling out to the warm day.
The Rondout’s shores became industrialized as we continued to drift towards the Hudson River, barges and their accompanying tugboats emerging around bends in the creek. Crews of men in rusty overalls clambered around massive girders laid out for transport, and a small cruise ship was being stripped and repainted off a dock. Cement and brick rose through the forest on the creek’s shores, some of it abandoned, the rest old enough to be.
There are three bridges crossing the Rondout as it approaches the Hudson: one rail and two road. We moored near the trestle of the railroad bridge and I boosted myself onto its concrete footing, walking the girders.
We saw the mighty Hudson swing into view around the Rondout’s final bend and paddled around a small island where a man was snapping photos of the River’s wide grandeur.
I was in a bit of a time crunch; I had to be back in Catskill for work at 5:30, and Morgan and I had been drifting down the creek rather lazily. On our way upstream, we booked it, trying to take a short cut around what we thought was an island, but ended up in a dead-end marina. Morgan said his arms were starting to hurt.
I arrived at work at 5:31, shoes squishing, stained with mud, and smiling widely.