Brendan Davis had dreamed of this accomplishment for years. As a kid growing up along the Hudson River, the photographer wanted one day to paddle from source to sea — 315 long, windy miles. Last year, with his friend Kirk Muir Horton, he did just that.
The Hudson starts in the Adirondacks and ends at the Statue of Liberty — our trip was as unpredictable and complex as the river itself.
Without much paddling experience, and a relatively new friendship to boot, we took our 10-foot inflatable raft to Lake Tear of the Clouds and started their journey downriver. Kirk and I encountered dry riverbeds and Class III whitewater and battled heavy tides. When things went wrong, we hitched rides on rafts, boats, and cars. In times of need strangers became friends. The whole trip took 14.5 days, which is the fastest recorded time; that being said, we are not sure that many people have actually done this trip.
Anyone else who has completed this trek knows just how difficult and straining it can be. Brendan and Kirk, while friends, certainly had to air out their frustrations from time to time and spend a few minutes apart from each other to keep sane. They also had to rely on the kindness of total strangers, a sticky proposition that couldn’t have worked out better for the two paddlers.
After we popped our raft on day three, we were worried about continuing through the section with shallow rapids, so we decided to walk on the road along the river to a point that would be deeper and more tame paddling. With the boat and all our other gear packed in cumbersome backpacks we couldn’t exactly walk very fast or comfortably. So, we started to stick out our thumbs.
We had walked about three miles when an old Van-a-gan with inspirational quotes all over it stopped and offered us a ride. It was an older couple celebrating their 40th anniversary camping in the Adirondacks. When they dropped us off at a good spot for us to start paddling again, they gave us their phone number and offered us a place to stay when we got to that point. A couple days later, we were in their kitchen drinking wine and eating dinner with them.
The river itself is intricate and unforgiving. Most New Yorkers probably couldn’t outline the path it takes to get to the ocean, but rest assured it’s long, winding, and chock full of potential obstacles.
The Hudson is a complex river. Where it starts and finishes could not be more different from each other. I think most people in NYC never would think about the Hudson coming from a little pond trickling into rapids, through dams and locks. From NYC, it’s a tidal river all the way 150 miles up to Troy, NY. Which makes it extremely difficult to paddle.
But the two men reached their destination in just about two weeks. Put yourself in their shoes for a minute and ask how you’d react to this site:
When we got to the Statue of Liberty, we shared a bottle of cheap Champagne while floating and looking at the Statue. We took the boat out at Liberty Park in NJ and called an Uber to drive us to Manhattan, where we stayed with friends for a couple days before heading home to Colorado.
As you can imagine, this trip inspired Brendan to want to complete others of its kind. There are plenty of places across the country that would make for a challenging, rewarding adventure, and Brendan has some ideas in mind.
I want to do trips like this in other places. I love the way that human-powered adventures allow and maybe force me to move at a slower pace that prevents things from passing by. I like how it allows for a more intimate relationship between me and the place and people I meet along the way. I dream of doing something similar in the Mississippi Delta!
See more of Brendan’s work at brendanpdavis.com.
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