I’m up early. With another MRE I’m packed and off before 6. If yesterday was the great party, today is the hangover. My shoulders and forearms are quite stiff. The river has now widened significantly and the current has dropped off to very little. The kayak is quickly full of water in the rear compartment. Taken together my pace is much slower. I feel a bit more wizened than euphoric.
But it’s an amazing morning. There’s mist across the river. The sun is streaking in horizontally through clear skies. Some patches of the water are brightly lit, others quite dark in the shade. The mist moves in amazing sweeping curves at the slightest change in the air. If I could dance like that . . . There are sections where it twists up in narrow columns 6” wide and 6’ tall. These are slow spinning twisters, tornados not of destruction but wisps of utter grace. Up close they are pairs of mist coils, twisting around each other. It’s a delicate, sensual dance. I feel as if I’m intruding on their intimate moment together.
The banks of the river are lined with grass and plants with big fish just below. As I take the inner river curves tightly, I’m clearly in their territory. They splash out of the way, one so close that I get a loud smack on the side of my craft. The hawks are out, as are the herons and ducks. I’m still herding them, despite the river’s width. In this northern section of the Great Piece Meadows, the Passaic River runs through the middle. It’s one of the farthest on this trip that I’ve been from civilization on both banks. It’s a peaceful place.
At one point I have to portage around a tree. After draining my kayak, I drag it over a section of grass to the other side. To my surprise, the grass has filled the crack and I’m able to kayak normally for a longer stretch before filling up. Around the tree, caught in the branches, in addition to logs and the like, there is now a degree of garbage. Still, the river has been very clean, and it feels disconnected from the built up areas around it and all their detritus.
At the end of the Meadows, I start passing some kayak fishermen and even a couple of slow moving motor boats. I can hear Highway 80 here and there to the south. As I leave the meadows, I pass under Highway 80 and Route 46. The river is now very wide. A ways further I pass some kayak fishermen. They’re great guys who provide some gorilla tape for my keel. The patch holds for the day and I’m up to full speed. I power through wide stretches with houses on the left and roadways to the right. Another 4 or so miles and I come around a big turn and arrive at Little Falls. Don’t let the ‘little’ fool you – while smaller in height than the great Paterson Falls a few miles downstream, they’ve got a 7’ drop onto hard rock and concrete, followed by a set of drops and rocks that look about class 4 rapids or so. I first am aware of the falls by their roar. Then the mist rising up 30’ above the thin flat line that signals a drop. I’m safely over to the side with ease. I have to haul my craft up through dense PI. Scouting, I realize I’d have a half mile or so portage to get around the falls. I’m not confident in my kayak with the crack, especially with anticipated rapids to get to Paterson. I am done. It’s 10 a.m. and I make the call to my wife to be picked up. My phone is water damaged and this is the last thing it does before going out for good.
It’s been about 46 miles of almost all wilderness in the middle of built up NYC suburbs. The exhilaration of this discovery is the joy of a lifetime. I can’t wait to share the stories and videos with family and friends. The bulk of the trip was on Saturday, but it feels I lived a lifetime of adventure. I really can’t believe all that happened in a day. And it happened where I would not have expected it. It wasn’t a river run hemmed in by back yards and industrial parks. Somehow, miraculously, the Passaic River from Little Falls up to Sterling has been preserved in a natural state. This is a real treasure in our backyard, and I hope enjoyment of the Passaic River expands to include many many more people.
Now I do. And I hope you’ll discover it too.