Paddle to DC: Pushed to Exhaustion on the Hudson River

Long journeys tend to have a few moments that stand out. Often they are the most miserable points. The points when the thoughts of a warm bed and calling it quits start creeping into the back of your head. Day 74 proved to be one of those moments for Amy and me as we work our way by water from the Boundary Waters to Washington D.C. Often Himalayan peaks or high latitude expeditions come to mind when we think of cold, trying times, but adventures are all around us. You don’t have to wander to the corners of the globe to push yourself to exhaustion.

Too many days in a row of waking before dawn and setting up camp in the dark had taken their toll. To boot we had been paddling through one of the nation’s largest Superfund site for two days, which is not typically part of our adventures. Giant machines scooped up black gunk from the bottom of the Hudson River and loaded it into barges as we canoe past. Signs warned not to eat the fish because they are contaminated with PCBs.

It seems ironic because the place we are paddling to protect, the Boundary Waters, is being threatened by a series of proposed sulfide ore mines, which the EPA calls the nation’s most polluting industry—and there are more Superfund sites from this type of mining than any other industry. In the Boundary Waters I just dip my cup in the middle of the lake as we paddle along when I am thirsty. Here on the upper Hudson I don’t even want to touch the water we glide across.

A gentle rain slowly transformed into the kind of hard soaking rain that finds its way through the best rain gear. It was raining so hard the water was bouncing off our canoe’s spray deck and bombarding us from all directions. The sun set at 4:45 PM and we paddled south for hours through the cold, dark, wet night—anxious to leave the barges and dredges of the $2 billion PCB clean up process behind us. When we finally stopped the temperature hovered just above freezing. Setting up camp on a island in the middle of the Hudson River was a cold, miserable process, made worse because we could see the glow of houses across the river and knew they contained dry, warm beds and fridges stocked with food. Why were we paddling down this polluted river, lined with industry in November?

The next morning it was still raining when the alarm went off at 5:30 AM, but by 9 AM blue sky appeared and the sun never felt so good. The outgoing tide carried us towards New York City until 10:30 AM. From 10:30 to 4:00 PM we paddled against the incoming tide, hugging shore to stay out of the 2 knot current flowing upriver. We hopped from eddy to eddy and slowly made our way south. We found a secluded park with picnic tables just in time for lunch. Nate Ptacek sent us a link to a draft of the video he has been working on about Paddle to DC. We decided to watch it during our lunch break and we both had tears streaming down our cheeks. Seeing the smiling faces of all the people who paddled the first mile with us on the Kawishiwi River, or came out to sign Sig and show their support for the Boundary Waters along the way was overwhelming. It reminded us that we are not alone on this journey, or in our quest to celebrate and protect the Boundary Waters, our nation’s most popular wilderness. We look forward to sharing Nate’s video with you soon.

We paddled into the night again tonight and pulled up to shore after paddling 40 miles in 12 hours. A huge moon lit up the sky and we were dry and warm, a stark contrast to last night. The alarm is set for 5:30 AM so we can catch the outgoing tide. Only 100 miles to go to New York City.

National Geographic Adventurers of the Year Dave and Amy Freeman are on a 100-day adventure to celebrate the natural beauty and economic importance of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. All along their 2,000-mile journey, Dave and Amy are sharing their love of the Boundary Waters and collecting signatures in support of America’s most visited wilderness area.

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