I Did It!

Written by Kayaker Chip on . Posted in The Erie Canal 3 Comments

Chip MacAlpine, Erie Canal, Kayaking, Sally Supernova, Wilderness Systems

I did it! Three hundred and sixty three miles of kayaking across New York State on the Erie Canal.

After nearly three weeks kayaking, I took my last paddle strokes under warm afternoon light as I passed through the five locks of the Waterford section just outside Albany, having the mile and a half stretch all to myself. With previous locks I would call when I was about a quarter mile away, after hearing each operator answer I would respond with “Hello, Lock#, this is Kayaker Chip! I am eastbound and looking to pass through.” Not that I remember them all, but I always was given a name, something to start a conversation with when I made the approach to the gates. However at Lock #6 (and Lock #2 if one was on a westbound approach), when you start the Waterford Flight they make sure to pass you through each of the five locks, even if the process (which can take up to two hours) puts you past the normal operating time for the day. As such all the operators know you are coming and calling the individual locks isn’t necessary. This felt a little impersonal especially coming at the end of a 24 mile day where I found few people to interact with. I was glad that I would soon be able to say that I completed the trip, but I was also sad that it was coming to an end. Sad that my day after day of paddling and night after night of camping on this trip would be a thing of the past. Sad that I would soon find myself indoors and fighting the return to “normal life.” I started locking through around 3:30pm, so I should have plenty of time without running over, as such I tried to chat with each operator as I had done before and enjoy my last moments on the canal.

At the same time my friend, Danielle, who held onto my truck while I paddled for the last three weeks, was on her way to the boat ramp just beyond Lock #2 where the Erie Canal meets with the Hudson River. I hadn’t seen anyone I knew since passing through Rochester two weeks ago, so I was really glad that I would soon have some company, even though I knew my lack of showering over the past few days was much more than most people could tolerate and any hugs might have to wait. The chamber opens and my new vista has the next lock already in view. Lock #5. Again, the next lock is within view just beyond the current chamber doors. To either side of me are concrete walls, just before the next set of gates there are openings and beyond the walls are large retention areas, I’m guessing to keep enough water on hand for the draining and filling of the flight. Lock #4. The next lock isn’t immediately in view, but just around the corner a little more than a half mile away and I’m at Lock #3. The fall colors on the trees seems to be closer to peak here, and the golden color sunlight only acts to enhanced it. I’m almost sure I could find a spot for another night of camping had the timing not worked out for my adventure extraction. I really wouldn’t have minded. Instead I moved on. Lock #2. Everything was a whirlwind as I chatted with the lock operator and Danielle who was snapping photos and capturing video as I was slowly lowered one final time.

The extra memory card I picked up just after Oneida Lake was nearly full so I didn’t have room for video at each of the locks in the flight, actually I stopped recording video back at Lock #8. There was still enough space to capture still images though. Just as they had done thirty three times before (okay, 32 times since Lock #17 has a vertical gate) the water pressure equalized between the chamber and the world on the other side and the doors cracked open just a bit. The operator then worked his magic the hundred year old hardware creaked and groaned and the doors slowly swung open to a new, vista ahead. Yet, this one would be my last. I paddled out past the still churning water. Paused, and turned back, waving goodbye as the doors closed behind me. “Thank you!” I called out one final time. Rip-rap, wind, rain, sunrises and sunsets, the great moments and the challenging ones, this has been an incredible trip!

I spotted a sailboat that I had locked through with earlier that day or maybe the day before, I paddled on over. The boat registration appeared to indicate the owners were from Ohio but after some back and forth congratulations on passage to the end, I came to find out they were from Vancouver, BC. Closer to my neck of the woods. They offered me a beer, my options were warm Bud Light or a cold Busch. After some deliberation I politely accepted the Bud Light and plunged it into the river to chill. Turns out they had sold all of their belongings and purchased the boat, just like my other Canadian friends from Lock #23, and planned to head down the east coast and on to the Caribbean. I was jealous. I had a few days of food left, but probably not enough to even follow the Hudson as far as NYC and certainly not to what lay beyond. Besides I knew there were some people 3000 miles away that were not only waiting to hear that I finished but couldn’t wait for my arrival back home. I finished the beer and paddled to the final take-out. After emptying all my gear from Sally and sorting between what was fit for going into the truck and items that were wet and would require some cleaning and care which went into the Thule box, I took one last look at the canal, thought about what I had accomplished, started the truck and was off. Later that evening over dinner, Danielle would remark how crazy it was what the couple on the sailboat were doing. I could only agree as far as the national brand beer they opted for.