By WILLIAM SHANNON
At the bottom of a graveled path off Ingalls Avenue in Troy, New York, two kids, an older and younger brother probably, sat on large rocks next to their bicycles.
The water poured over the Federal Dam at Troy and the older one asked about the length of the trip and whether we were packing food.
A friend and I carried our kayaks down to the water, leaving the vessels ten feet or more from small waves that crashed onto the gravelly shore.
There was a tinge of mischief apparent in the older of the two kids, but most kids carry that, and it seemed his curiosity was genuine.
My friend, Jen, and I went back up to the truck for the last of the supplies.
While we were up there—a hundred feet of trees between us and the water—the two kids sped away in haste on their bicycles, pedaling away into the streets of Troy without looking back.
Back down at the water, Jen’s kayak—the much nicer of the two—was in the water, parallel to shore, bouncing against the gravel with the crashing of the little waves.
The kids, it seemed, had attempted to set the large kayak adrift for general thrill.
Fortunately, they’d been nervous enough of being caught that they cut the job short and failed to push the vessel out far enough to get beyond the shore-pushing current from the dam.
Human nature, all around.
We loaded up and got on the water.
The Federal Dam at Troy is the northern end of the Hudson River estuary (where tides affect the river), and so purists aiming to journey the entire tidal Hudson will start their voyage within view or earshot of the dam’s rushing waters.
This voyage, though, would be a day adventure with the terminus being Schodack Island State Park in Castleton-on-Hudson, a paddle of twenty miles or so.
Starting, we had a nice downriver current from the dam that canceled out and overpowered (at the surface level) the incoming tide.
We talked about the effect that music and food have on the morale of longer Hudson River paddling trips.
I took out my little crank radio, extended its metal antenna, and looked quickly for the clearest station.
Good for morning morale.
I fixed the radio into the attached bungee at the front of my kayak’s cockpit.
One song that came on reminded me of the “Bridge on the River Kwai” theme, which proceeded to bounce around my head for most of the day, escaping in the form of whistling here and there.
We paddled past downtown Troy and the Troy Pub’s mural of Uncle Sam tipping his cap while steering a riverboat.
The river is narrow in this section and deep from two centuries of dredging for shipping channels.
The Hudson became part of the most important trade route in America in the 1820s, when the Erie Canal connected the Midwest to goods from around the world. New York City boomed and many river and canal cities sprouted and it was the biggest transformer of the budding nation until the next revolution later that century: Railroads.
We went under the many bridges as we made our way toward Albany.
I-787 cuts much of Albany off from the river, but the grand architecture of the state capitol is always worth taking in.
We passed the Port of Albany, the large scrap metal yard at the Port of Rensselaer and the Port of Coeymans, in addition to smaller industrial outposts.
Despite the innovations of the past two hundred years, the Hudson is still very much a thoroughfare for trade.
Many of the barges that trudge up and down the river each day dock in the capital region, awaiting loads of gravel, or scrap metal or crude oil from the Bakken Shale Formation in North Dakota. The oil boom of recent years out there has turned the Port of Albany into one of the country’s biggest transportation hubs for domestic oil.
We stopped for sandwiches across from the Port of Albany.
When we were back on the water the afternoon sun shone and there was no real wind. The water was pond-like. We crossed over to the western shore.
South of Albany, the land along the river becomes remote. We wended along shore, where the tips of downed trees were submerged in the water and the land looked like thick wilderness.
When we slowed down, I took my cell phone out from the behind my seat, since I’d heard it buzzing sometime earlier. I listened to the voicemail. It was a message from a friend informing me of the death of another friend the night before.
On the water, we continued moving south and talked of death and talked of whether dealing with deaths of friends and family becomes any less difficult as you get older.
How hard is it for people in their seventies or eighties or nineties or older to have said goodbye to the majority of the people they’ve known and loved?
I guess there’s no useful answer to these sorts of musings.
But it’s part of the process to brace for our own eventual end. If we attempt to harness the mindset that comes with losing somebody, the musing can lead to making choices during our brief flash of life that we’ll come to be proud of down the road. Either that or we can distract ourselves and play for time.
We paddled on, underneath the Castleton Bridge and the Alfred Smith rail bridge.
We made good time over the twenty or so miles and we finished during high tide at Schodack Island State Park.
It was a Friday.
Three or four families were going over their strategies to back their trailered boats into the water, to spend some time out on the Hudson.
The bulk of the afternoon was ahead.