Following the Hudson


(This column was first published in the June 3, 2002 Buffalo News.)


For some time I had wanted to explore the Hudson River. After watching Bill Moyers' PBS special on this important waterway, I couldn't wait. In mid-May off I went.


Instead of boating, I followed both banks of the Hudson as closely as possible by moped. My trip took me from near the source of the river in the Adirondacks to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge near Catskill. Because I took daily round trips, I rode 335 miles in the four days I was out. (The entire river from source to mid-Manhattan is 317 miles.)


Despite this spring's uncomfortable weather, it was a wonderful outing. I wore layer upon layer of winter gear so I was able to withstand the near freezing temperatures and I only suffered through that biker's challenge, rain, on one day. That night I retreated shivering to a motel to dry out and warm up. The other nights I slept comfortably in the back of my SUV after spending the evenings studying the Hudson's history in books by Robert Boyle and Carl Carmer.


I have several times been to the designated source of the Hudson River at that beautifully named Lake Tear of the Clouds on the 4322-foot flank of Mount Marcy. The nearest I got to Lake Tear this time was seven miles away along another of the source streams north of Tahawus, the mining center on Sanford Lake. After having ridden past the ugly mine tailings, I found the end of the road high peaks trailhead a lovely spot with the roaring whitewater of Calamity Brook a few yards off and the mountains visible through the birches and pines. The stream was less than ten yards wide there and a few yards upstream I could cross it by jumping from rock to rock.


The elevation at that point was about 2100 feet, already more than half way down to the sea level tidewaters at Troy. From Troy the remainder of the river is an estuary, its current almost entirely lost in the in-and-out workings of tides. It is said that a log would take almost a year to float from Albany to the ocean. It would be carried eight miles downstream and then seven and a half miles back upstream on each ebb and flow.


The only part of the upper Hudson that I could not follow was the 22-mile roadless stretch where the river flows through a gorge between Newcomb and North River. I had to drive around that favorite section of canoers and kayakers. By the time I got back to the river it was already over fifty yards wide.


The rest of the Hudson was mostly flatwater with only a few high falls, most notably Glens Falls, the site of the famous cave episode in Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. By the time I reached Catskill the river was a mile across.


I stopped often to read roadside historical markers for so much of our history took place within a few yards of this river. For example, I passed where Jennie M'Crea was scalped, where Burgoyne's surrendered troops crossed and where the ever-burning Mohican council fire was located.


One result of my early trip was that each night I simply pulled off the road to camp a few feet from the riverbank. My favorite site was near Lake Luzerne where I parked in a field of spring beauties. The next morning the repeated who-hoots-for-you-all calls of a barred owl served as a pleasant reveille.


Anyone planning a similar trip should obtain Arthur Adams, The Hudson: A Guidebook to the River, which provides excellent directions for road or river travel.-- Gerry Rising