In the shadows of a bridge - part two

Editors note: This is the second in a series about a 328 mile canoe expedition from Plattsburgh to NYC conducted in September of 1988 with members of the 46th Talavera, British Armed Forces. In the Shadows of a Bridge As a second thought, before leaving on the expedition, I had packed a sidearm in with my gear. I rarely brought a handgun along on canoe trips but something told me to toss it in. Skunks, raccoons, down the Hudson, who knows? It just felt like the right thing to do. After camping for the night in Dresden, we left for Whitehall in an early morning fog which completely blanketed the southern end of lake. A large white boat that followed our small flotilla all the way to the Champlain Canal finally turned abruptly at the gate. It sent a heavy wake which nearly dumped the two canoes which trailed behind. Inside the lock,I stressed the importance of sticking together and staying close. On the shipping lanes of the busy Hudson, we had to be cautious of boats and we needed to support each other. I explained how easily a canoe could be swamped or flipped, citing the episode with the big white boat as an example. The lock tenders on the canal were most helpful. They let us know where to camp, brought us bags of fresh corn and shared a few beers with the crew. We stayed at Smiths Basin the second evening on the canal and made fast for Stillwater, 33 miles distant on day 6. Lock tenders gave us the Glens Falls Post-Star, which carried a nice article about our journey. The Lt. was upset that one of the Gunners had represented himself as a Commander to the reporter. He disciplined the man to galley duty, washing, drying dishes and cleaning up the camp for the remainder of the trip. It was difficult to get the Brits to fully comprehend how vulnerable we would be once on the open water. They found out at the Federal Lock in Troy, where the Champlain Canal meets the Hudson. This is where currents swirl and the river rises on the tide about three feet. We got our first taste of barge wash when the waves from a passing barge finally reached the shore a full 10 minutes after the boat went by. The wave snuck up on us and sloshed several of our canoes upon the large rocks that formed a shoreline barrier. Dented equipment. After we made camp in Corning Preserve, a day late and a Key to the City short, I contacted an old friend who agreed to help me resupply our rapidly diminishing food stocks. Back in camp, we shared a starchy meal of over-cooked spaghetti, (never let English cook Italian). Later, we walked into town to a bar for a drink, settling for the nearest place we could find, McGearys, an old Irish pub. I ordered up a round before realizing how uncomfortable the Brits were. Needless to say, the boys were very nervous, they drank fast and wanted to leave promptly. Back at the camp, Lt. Robinson explained that Albany had one of the highest Irish-American populations of any US city. He was worried about trouble, which he said Always follows the paddies. When I told him I was full blood, Irish American, he grinned and said,I hope the Irish ways dont follow you. As we launched our canoes the following morning, Lt. Robinson lost his footing, spun around and dove into the water to avoid crashing upon the heavy rocks along the shoreline. Though soaking wet, he grabbed his kit bag and made an impossibly fast change behind some bushes and we were on our way. He mumbled something to me about Luck of the Irish, but I paid it no mind. The river was wide and full of debris, where eddies keep all floating objects collected in tiny backwaters. Styrofoam, basketballs, road cones and coolers seemed to top the list. Despite the flotsam, the Hudsons waters offered remarkable clarity and the animal and bird life was abundant along the shorelines and on the islands. We hoped to make Athens, but the tide had turned and the going was slow. Although we paddled hard into the late afternoon, the landmarks we used along the shoreline never seemed to move. We were forced to camp a few miles above Athens for the evening. While we averaged about 2.5 miles per hour paddling, the tide came in at a comparable speed and negated our progress. It was tough going. Recognizing the necessity of riding the tide, we attempted to catch the wave and paddle with the tide. Unfortunately, the change in tides often occurred too early in the morning for us to be on the river. We usually had to wait out the morning fog so that the big boats could be seen. Camped the next evening on an island down river from Athens, we received another valuable lesson in water safety as two ships passed on opposite sides of the island. Water displaced by the vessels swept across the beach at the tip of the island and banged our canoes hard against the trees to which they were tied. The canoes were 30 feet from the waters edge, but they were floating. After this, we moved our tents a bit further inland. We spent a good portion of each day huddled in the shade of the many bridges which span the Hudson River seeking relief from a blazing September sun. Tired, sore and sunburned, we hoped to ride easily into Kingston by late afternoon. However, we had barely made the Kingston bridge by 5 p.m. and still had a mile to travel when the tide turned on us. By then, we were quite spread out, with the lead canoe almost at the Kingston Town Beach and the last boat still a mile or so upriver, above the bridge. We were greeted at the beach by an old Doctor. When I explained that we were part of a British expedition, he remarked, The last time the British were here was 1778 and they burned the damned place to the ground! Lt. Robinson, the commanding officer assured him,You neednt worry sir, were a bit too knackered to cause you any such trouble today. I contacted the Kingston Police to arrange to camp at the beach and they we most obliging. They sent an officer over to open the restrooms and turn on the hot water for the showers. What a treat! They also arranged for a boat to head up river to bring in our last canoe, where Sgt. Strachan and his partner were still battling the incoming tide. The boat went for them but they stubbornly refused assistance. Another hour and a half passed before they landed. By then, we were being entertained by Mr. Glenn Becker, Ret., 2nd Field Regiment Queens Own Highlanders. Mr. Becker had heard on his scanner that British soldiers were in trouble at the Town Beach and drove right over. Hed been living in Kingston for 40 years and was overjoyed to see fellow British soldiers. Having left my wife and newborn behind, I could understand his homesickness. Mr. Becker brought enough beer and snacks to float our boats a while. We sat up with him around a fire and listened to war stories into the early morning hours. (To be continued)

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