Thursday, August 26, 2010

The End, Happily, After Ever[ything]

It is nice to see a sunny sky in the morning again after too many grey or rainy days. I come down from my third floor room to find the boat and bike still happily sitting by the front door. I tell the new woman in the front desk not to worry because I'll be moving my weird belongings away from the entrance soon. She laughs. I eat a leisurely breakfast before setting off to cross the bridge, not looking forward to those tight turns again.

I go into Lock 10 and ask the lock master, Joe, about the situation and it looks like the canal will not be operational until the weekend. I guess I will not get to go on the famous Waterford flight of locks. I will have to come back some other time. Joe was nice enough to offer me a cold bottle of Gatorade from his fridge, and he showed me picture of the severe damage a really bad flood in 2006 caused. All the buildings had to be completely rebuilt.

The signage for the Canal Bike Route falls apart in Schenectady and I get lost and find myself in the midst of mid-day traffic in the centre of town. It's a good thing I have the GPS, I get off the main street, find some quiet residential side streets and deduce a way through town until I reconnect with the path.

Not paddling on the canal meant towing the kayak up a very long steep hill over the bluffs that overlook the Hudson Valley. The views are fantastic, and make the hard work somewhat worth it. On the pathway, a cyclist going the opposite way sees me and shouts "You stole my idea!" He soon turns around, chases me down and asks me about the rig.

On the descent into the Hudson Valley, the bike path suddenly ends and I am back to dealing with city streets again, this time busy with the afternoon rush hour. The signage is really bad and I make a couple of wrong turns. Eventually I get to the Hudson River shore at Watervliet. Hanging out by the rocks are a bunch of guys "fishing" with Budweisers. I ask them how far it is to downtown Albany and they tell me it 6 or so miles which would still make a good paddle to end the day and the trip. They have a kick witnessing the conversion of the rig and we were cracking jokes back and forth. "Am I going to get mugged by the fish in the Hudson?"

The Hudson is at sea level all the way to Albany, more than 150 miles inland from coastal New York City. Tides become a factor when paddling as the ebb and flow of the water can cause odd things to happen. Luckily it is close to the high tide and the water seems quite calm. It is littered with debris, however, most likely the stuff I saw falling in from the Mohawk. Still it is so nice to be on the water.

I slip under some impressive looking tall bridges, streams of trucks and cars high overhead. The steep bluffs are heavily wooded and for a while it is hard to sense the state capital is nearby. Soon enough Albany's towers appear, glowing in the light of the setting sun which is also casting shadows onto the water.

I slide into a public boat ramp near a rowing club, which I find out later is actually where the old Erie Canal used to terminate. As I'm pulling the boat out, a man on a bike comes over to chat. John was waiting for his wife to come back from jogging along the river path. He immediately detects I'm from Canada when I start talking to him, telling him about my trip and that I am just finishing it right here, right now. He invites me to stay at their house, saying his wife Julia would not object. What an amazing stroke of seredipity! Julia comes bounding down the pathway with a smile, and we pile all my stuff and tie the boat on top of their station wagon to their beautiful home in Albany's southwestern suburbs.

After a hot shower I sit down with them to an amazing five-dish dinner that Julia whipped up seemingly without effort with her magic pinky finger just like my mom. We talk about everything and anything, never running out of things to say until we decide it was time for sleep. To Julia and John, my deepest heartfelt gratitude, I could not have wished for a better end to my trip, way better than a fanfare of trumpets. It is moments like this while travelling that reaffirms my faith in humanity, that most of us basically prefer to be kind to each other.

I feel like a lucky kid at Christmas, and I can't even escape the coincidence that I reached my destination with my "mule", end up in a little town called Bethlehem NY and find a room. That room is their 17-year old son's, who is away visiting his uncle. I can't believe my lucky stars and I fall asleep as I stare up at a ceiling with little glow-in-the-dark stickers of planets and spaceships that have probably been there since Ethan was a little boy.

Good night, Moon.

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