Kayaking (And Capsizing In) Stockport Creek

stockport creekNature is always within walking distance in the Hudson Valley, and sometimes, even biophiles like me overlook an adventurous opportunity a stone’s throw away.

I’m not being literal there. You could not throw a stone from my driveway and hit Claverack Creek. BUT, you COULD hit it with the aid of certain medieval projectile weapons, such as a large catapult, or a trebuchet.

My point is, it’s ridiculous I haven’t kayaked on it yet. So, last Friday, my friend Ed and I stowed our kayaks in the bed of his pickup and nosed it to the side of Urban Road in Stockport to launch.

Urban Road, which runs alongside Claverack Creek, is a bit of a misnomer, as it actually has zero structures on it. A tram line used to cross the shallow river here, but the bridge was deconstructed or fell into the creek long ago, leaving only the megalithic abutments the water now flows around.

It had rained recently, so the creek had enough depth for us to comfortably push off. However, though I was pretty good on the deep, slow-moving Hudson, the Claverack Creek had some rapids, so this was the last time I did anything comfortably the whole trip.

stockport creekThe first set of rapids was maybe a thousand feet downriver, and we approached them tenderly. I had scoped this set out from the road during a scouting expedition meant to decide if the trip was feasible, so I knew the rapids didn’t include a waterfall cascading into large spikes or anything, but we still approached them tenderly.

Ed went first, maneuvering around the submerged crags and boulders. I nosed forward a few seconds later and almost instantly started scraping stone.

Grimacing at the thought of the rocks stripping my hull like a carrot peeler, I tried to coax my craft to what looked like fairer waters near the starboard shore. I was making some progress when my kayak jammed into a mean fang of a rock jutting above the waterline. The back of the craft spun around with the current, and then THAT jammed into a rock, clamping me perpendicular to the rush of water.

I gamely started shoving against a rock with my paddle to keep upright, but it was inevitable: the kayak rolled, tipping me into the rapids.

Now, if you’re a fan of The Other Hudson Valley, you know I’m not big on safety measures. So, needless to say, I wasn’t wearing a life vest, or a helmet, or…whatever else you’re supposed to wear while whitewater kayaking.

I came up spitting water and was able to find the river floor with my feet. The creek was only up to my hips, and I was kind of able to slog towards shore. I saw Ed below the rapids, zeroing in on my loose kayak.

“Just a tip,” Ed said helpfully after I had walked down. “Try to avoid the whitewater, cause that’s where the rocks are.”

After absorbing this most basic rule of kayaking, I drained my craft on the grassy shore and we paddled back out to the current.

The first set of rapids had been pretty mild, a Class 2, maybe, and I had been able to see them from the street during the scouting expedition. The creek veered off from Urban Road after this, and there was more of a question of what lay ahead.

According to the YouTube video I watched seconds ago, it’s important to scout the entire route when planning a first attempt on a river. If I HAD, I would’ve been aware of the four-foot drop at the end of the next set of rapids. Thankfully, Ed and I weren’t exactly charging blindly forward after my first performance, so we saw the drop in plenty of time.

stockport creekWith much scraping, I re-entered the creek below the falls, and we lackadaisically paddled down a slow stretch of the creek. Kayaking is just hiking on water, but with the added bonus of being eye-level with the most fecund parts of our ecosystem. Three cormorants were fishing downstream, paddling about with only their necks above the water until they spotted something swimming below. A couple mallards kvetched overhead, and a pair of Canadian geese posed near the shoreline.

The prize sighting, however, was of one of my favorite birds, the great blue heron. Despite being goddamn humungous, blue herons fly at such a glacial pace you’d expect them to start losing lift and nosedive into the water like malfunctioning aircraft. But they’ve been flying this way for millions of years and are very self-assured about their abilities, so it just looks graceful.

The great blue heron kept taking short flights downriver as we paddled behind. We wondered if “Bluey” (now his legal name) was doing this to keep clear of us.

“It could be that,” I considered, “or it could be something he was gonna do anyway. Could just be, y’know, his daily routine.”

One of the great things about birds is they are unafraid of humans. Because they can just fly off, and you can’t do shit about it.

It’s nice to not be taken as a threat by nature, to be considered only an annoyance. Of course, if birds were able to make the connection between the two land-bound kayakers and the destruction wrought upon their habitat and species…well, our trip would have less birdwatching. For what it’s worth.

The third set of rapids was after the Claverack Creek met the Kinderhook Creek to form the Stockport Creek. They were a bit rougher, maybe a class 2-3. I was much better by then (relative to how I started, anyway) and was able to get down them with minimal scraping. I maneuvered about to face the completed stretch and saw Ed caught on a rock, his kayak essentially grounded and pointing slightly upstream.

Filled with vigor from not capsizing again, I decided to help. I paddled up to an exposed chunk of rock, stepped onto it, and lugged my kayak onto the dry surface for safekeeping. There was a series of exposed boulders leading to the predicament upstream, and I was able to teeter along until I reached Ed, whose back was turned to me.

As soon as he saw me, he started waving me away. Not to be dissuaded from performing a good deed, I kept creeping up to him until I could hear him above the crashing water.

“GET BACK IN YOUR KAYAK,” he said, continuing to wave me away.

“I THINK-“

“GET BACK IN YOUR KAYAK.”

Ed explained, after he had wrenched his kayak free, that one should NEVER leave their kayak mid-stream, especially the way I had done it, because “my boat could’ve gotten loose and I would have no control over it and it could’ve taken you out.”

Well said, Edwin. Well said.

stockport creek

The Stockport Creek passed under Route 9 and we saw a man casting a line from a small boat. The land rises up from the creek in sharp cliffs here, and several houses, one just constructed, teeter on its edge.

The Stockport Creek has no rapids after this point and flowed lazily between flat islands. We rounded a bend in the creek and saw there was a shack on one of them.

“That’s no shack,” Ed called to me as we came closer. “That’s a proper cabin.”

It was really more of a house, and there was a second, smaller structure on the island under construction. A small boat was tethered to a short dock.

“Good morning!” A naked man bellowed suddenly from the house’s doorway.

“Good morning!” Ed called back.

“HEL-LO!” I chimed in.

Ed assured me soon afterwards, that, no, the man was NOT naked, but was only wearing shorts similar to his skin tone. Any doubt I had in my mind dissolved after I heard the man start up a circular saw, which would’ve been pretty hazardous without pants.

I don’t know if the man owned the island or was squatting, a la Hudson’s Furgary Shacks, but it was goddamned awesome either way.

The weathered ferric abutments of an Amtrak bridge framed the wide Hudson as we reached the creek’s terminus. There’s a rudimentary boat launch leading out of the creek’s delta, and we passed some truly uninspired graffiti on the way to the parking lot.

I had stowed my car there so we could drive back to Ed’s truck at our launch-point, but Ed gave me a kayak dolly, and I live close enough I could do the trip again and conceivably walk back to my house.

Walking distance. Because it’s the goddamn Hudson Valley.

Afterword: More fun than my last article

If you scroll alllll the way back to posts from 2014, when TOHV was first launched, you will see different subject matter than you do today…

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