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Pilgrim's Paddle: Day One on the Hudson

This is the first in a four-part series on one woman's journey to find The Hudson River Greenway, and what she learned during her solo paddle on the river. Check back tomorrow for part two.

"He learned incessantly from the river. Above all, it taught him how to listen, to listen with a silent heart, with a waiting, open soul, without passion, without desire, without judgment, without opinion." – Herman Hesse, Siddhartha

There is supposed to be a daisy chain of campsites along the Hudson River that reaches from the Adirondacks to Manhattan. It is the kayaker's equivalent of the Appalachian Trail, or so I'd heard. But of the many sight I've seen on local waters – including a juvenile whale in the Gowanus Canal – I had yet to see a legal campsite or any sort of trail marker. Was the Hudson River Greenway a good idea that ran out of money, or was it out there, somewhere, invisible to the uninitiated? It was time to find out.

I tracked down the most recent guide book. "The Hudson River Water Trail Guide," last updated in 2003, would be my bible for the next four days. I filled a few gallon jugs with water and into three dry bags packed food, camping gear, a copy of Siddhartha, a hand-crank radio, cell phone and camera. My kayak strapped onto the roof of my car, I got a ride to a waterfront park in Kingston and pulled on my dry suit.

So began my 50-mile solo trek downstream.

Day one: Kingston to Esopus (10.8 miles)

Up here, the river is timeless. The tide of waterfront condos hasn't made it this far north yet. If it weren't for the tugboat pushing a supertanker, I could almost imagine myself an Indian squaw.

A hyperactive Indian squaw. I can't stop snapping pictures. Yellow tulips, picnic benches, a red brick beach. Even oil tanks and abandoned cement factories cast romantic shadows in the early evening sun. Every other minute, I quit paddling, un-Velcro my gloves, unroll my dry bag and pull out my camera, getting turned sideways by the current in the process. Just as I get into range of Rondout Lighthouse, the first scenic highlight that you, reader, might legitimately care to see, my camera battery dies. I back paddle and swivel in my seat in a frantic attempt to squeeze out one more picture before the current sweeps me past. Nope. This de-evolution will not be photographed.

At least now I can sit back and – and, right, figure out where I'm going to sleep. Scenic Hudson's 96-acre Esopus Meadows Preserve has a reassuring post sign indicating mileage to waterfront cities like Troy and Newburgh. It's reassuring because it implies that if you were to consider paddling 80 miles to Manhattan, that wouldn't make you insane. But it might make you criminal: even here, camping is not allowed.

I camp anyway. I forego a fire, eat cold leftover, and pretend I don't feel just a little lonely. I don't have to pretend for long. One by one, voices pipe up. The freight train's triple-toned wail, a motorboat's thrum, a man's voice across the river, crickets chirping Morse code, a helicopter, a siren.

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Becca Tucker, a Bedford native and graduate of Fox Lane High School and Yale University, edits a new green living magazine called dirt , covering the fertile Hudson Valley region. She is the daughter of Main Street Connect CEO Carll Tucker.

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