Archive for July, 2012


Author: Stephen

New York Piratizes State Parks



At a picnic table at Evangola State Park, in New York, about 32 kilometers from Buffalo. Got to get used to the metric, as I’m hoping to land in Canada tomorrow. I’ve been biding the weather for three days here, as I’ve decided to paddle from here to Point Abino,  a 20-something kilometer open water crossing. In retrospect, I could have made it yesterday, and maybe today, but I’m holding out for calmer water and a sky full of sunshine.
I spent Thursday with John and Wendy, a lovely couple I met at the kayak launch in Barcelona, New York. They kept track of me via the SPOT, and showed up at my campsite at Evangola Wednesday evening, as I was making dinner.  They picked me up the next morning, and gave me a tour of Buffalo. John, a mechanic, grew up in the area, and knows well its geology and history. As we drove past miles of shuttered factories and warehouses, he told that one time 25,000 people showed up everyday at Bethlehem Steel alone. From there, we went to visit with their paddling buddy, Mitch, a retired blacksmith.
Mitch and his wife, Peggy, have been doing the back-to-nature homestead thing for 30-plus years. The beautiful wood home they built is complemented by an equally unique smithy, a couple of small barns, boat shed, and a sauna deep in the woods.
There’s a pond, where Mitch teaches kayak rolling, a pair of big solar panels, and amazing sculpture everywhere. Mitch even fired up his forge and fashioned me an ornate “S” hook. I ended the day doing my laundry and sharing a glass of New York wine at John and Wendy’s.


Divvying up the booty.

Today I’m surrounded by picnic pavilions filled with families celebrating reunions, and one guy’s 60th birthday. Jimmy Buffet on the boom box, water balloon games, lots of burger and hot dog smoke. They really know how to stick it to a vegetarian…
The park is hosting Pirate Fest today. Who would have guessed there are pirate re-enactors? I’m uncertain how authentic it all is, though. Most of the characters look as though they did their research at a Disney movie, with costuming purchased at a dollar store. One young woman is definitely channeling Johnny Depp. Unless it goes into the evening, and it might, it looks like a bit of a bust, as there are more pirate vendors than paying customers at the airbrush tattoo tent. The plastic swords and eye patches aren’t moving very quickly, either. The restroom walls, though, are echoing loudly with kids screaming “aargh!”, and the treasure hunt looks like it was a hit.  And, I must say, the pirate pizza and pink lemonade taste awfly good. All in all, everyone’s having fun, and it’s a lovely day up on this grassy, shaded bluff overlooking Erie.
I’ve been staying  in the tent section at the campground, which is pretty nice. After folks set up, they have to park their cars in a designated lot. It’s not far away, but at least I don’t feel like I’m camping at a car dealership.



We had some drama at the site last night. About 2 a.m., a guy yelled, “You pushed me into the fucking fire pit!”
“Fuck you!” a woman yelled back. “You called me a crack whore!”
“Well, you are bi-polar!” he yelled back.
Between my being half-asleep, and their slurred speech, I couldn’t exactly tell what he said that ignited the sparks, but I sensed that alcohol was fueling the fire.
The two parties went back and forth with pretty much the same refrain, when a second guy yelled at Fire Pit Guy, “Hey, get your fucking keys, get in your fucking car, and get the fuck out of here! I’ve got a family to protect here!”
“I am leaving,” Fire Pit Guy said, in his very whiny voice. “I got no problem with that. But she pushed me into the fire pit. See, I burned my hand?”
He didn’t get much sympathy from Family Man:
“I’m this close to kicking the shit out of you! Get the fuck out of here!”
This and forth then also repeated, pretty much verbatim, at least four times, and I was just crawling out of my sleeping bag to take a look and call nine-eleven, when the gravel crunched and red light flashed through my tent. A car door opened, and the yelling ended. All I really heard after that was the cop car’s engine, and occasional missives from the dispatcher over the radio. I believe I heard Fire Pit Man suggest that he simply drive himself home.
“That ain’t gonna happen,” the cop said. “Just stand over there by the side of my car.”
After about 20 minutes, the cop car’s doors opened and closed four times, and then it drove off, lights still flashing.
When I rolled out of the tent this morning, I looked around to see if any tents or people were missing. Everything looked the same as it did before I went to bed.
Why can’t we all just get along? Like the pirates.


Sleeper Cell

Author: Stephen

50 miles from Buffalo


Wind bound again. Pulled into Barcelona, NY, yesterday afternoon, on a 15 mph following wind. Weather radio called for more high winds, so decided to lay up. This section of coast is lined with 50 foot bluffs, and doesn’t offer many chances to get off if Erie acts up. I paddled around the little village’s break wall into a marina, and tied up along an old steel retaining wall, right in front of what turned out to be a kayak launch site. Waded ashore, asked around a bit, and was directed to Cameron, who runs the marina. His face and body language are that of someone immediately recognizable as kind and patient, and true to form he said it would be fine if I set up the tent behind “Spectrum,” a 45-foot cabin cruiser perched on blocks just a few feet from where Seaweed is tied up. No charge.


Mary wants to get back on the water, too.


I’ve had three meals at the two restaurants up the street, am getting dangerously close to finishing “The Plague of Doves” by Louise Erdrich, and otherwise have been lazily watching kids with fishing rods come and go, with and without fish. The marina has a gentle disarray and nautical clutter, with several dry-docked vessels, including an old fishing boat undergoing a hopeful restoration. A family sits at a picnic table, speaking Spanish. There’s a sign at the beach that says “State Law Forbids Swimming Unless Lifeguard in Attendance” adding, “No Lifeguard Here.” Lots of people go swimming , including me.


The water clarity has greatly improved since I entered Pennsylvania, and appears even better here in New York. The warmth of the water is striking; it’s been in the high 60’s to 80’s the whole trip. The daytime air temperature has been from the high 70’s to over 100. The wind seems to change direction as frequently as the minute hand on my watch. There have been a couple of impressive thunderstorms, but it’s mostly been very dry. Only had dew on the tent one night. Hardly any mosquitos!


Barcelona Harbor


Speaking of the tent, so far the Tarptent has been wonderful (unless you’re a gear head, switch to another blog now. I recommend I’ve pitched it several times on top of the canoe, as well as on the ground. It goes up quickly, and has kept me dry through big, windy rainstorms. It only weighs 26 ounces, plus two trekking poles, and the design is brilliant. It has a sleeping area of about 7 x 3 feet, entrances on both sides, and enough vestibule space for a couple of packs, camera box and miscellaneous clutter. My only concern is the clips and zippers seem pretty light duty, but time will tell how they hold up. My new Blackbird Warbonnet camping hammock is also working well. It replaced the Hennessy Hammock that I used on my Lake Huron trip. I much prefer the side entrance of the Blackbird over the bottom entrance of the Hennessy. The strap hanging system, although heavier than Hennessy’s system, is much easier to adjust. The Big Mamajama tarp (how does Brandon, the designer, come up with these names?), which goes over the hammock, is very nice with lots of room underneath and is also easy to pitch. I adopted a sweet technique, which I learned in “The Ultimate Hang,” an excellent little book about hammock camping. Here’s a link to a description of that,


Tarptent on Seawind canoe


I just looked skyward. The cirrus clouds are really scuttling along. I’d better stop here, make sure the tent stakes are pinned tight, and cross my finger that I haven’t jinxed myself praising my nylon home away from home.

P.S. I’ve decided to stop calling my trip “non-motorized”. There’s so much negativity in the world these days. Instead it’s “self-propelled”. More positive, yes? Or, perhaps, “self-empowered”?

Back Support

Author: Stephen

The challenge, and joy, of camping is realizing how simple one's needs are.


Sitting in the Erie, Pa., library, on a blustery, rainy, day. Erie is a tough lake, and I am so grateful for all the kind people who have helped me along the way. At breakfast on launch day four weeks ago in Monroe, Mich., Ruth talked up my trip with our waiter, Brady, at the Monroe Street Grill. When he returned to our table with our meal, (an amazing asparagus omelette,) he said the owner told him our meal was free.


The Ohio coast was a constant party, from Jerry Garcia, Gilligan and the gang in the Copper Kettle Marina at Beaver Creek, who kept me in beer and laughing through fireworks and a couple of thunderstorms; to Jack and Leah, who lent refuge a couple of miles down the shore, and have the most amazing collection of beach glass; to the folks at the Northeast Yacht Club, who let me hang my hammock from some dry-docked vessels, and made sure I had a balanced diet (beer in the evening, coffee in the morning); to Steve and Laura, whose roots reach from the high hill they live on down 100 feet to the sandy point they share with a close-knit group of neighbors, who all wished me well. Twice I was met by guys with same name, Frank, who paddled their kayaks with me. The hospitality has continued in Pennsylvania: newlyweds Frank and Eryn invited me into their beautiful home just west of Erie, and served me a delicious bowl of pasta primavera, made with Frank’s homemade pasta.


All you need to get around Lake Erie is a canoe and people like Shawn, of the Lampe Marina and Campground in Erie, Pa.


I’m weathering the storm at the Lampe Marina and Campground, thanks to Shawn, who made sure I got a campsite amidst all the Harleys in town this weekend for Roar on the Shore. I had a great conversation with Ted and Steve (aka Jo Hunter Ice Man Mission Man) at the Tap Room in Erie last night, and Steve called this morning to invite me to his beer club’s party tomorrow 15 miles up the coast. I’ve also received an invitation to dinner and offers of a couple of places to camp in Ontario, from George, of the Niagara on the Lake Surf Club. All these generous and trusting people, and those who have emailed and left such kind words on this blog, have inspired me so much. The wind hasn’t done much pushing, but some great people have got my back.


Traded Seaweed for this dreamboat. Just need to drain the tank and add flotation, and she'll be good to go.

Fairport Harbor

Author: Stephen

Frank Fenoglio


Retired engineer and infinitely curious Frank Fenoglio, of Cleveland, met me as I was pushing off the little island in the Chagrin River I had camped on. We spent the day pushing headwinds and 2-4 foot waves on our way to Fairport, Ohio, where we met his wife, Pat. Frank disassembled his 18-foot Feathercraft kayak, then they kindly took me out to dinner. When he’s not paddling, sailing, or driving his Super 7 race car, Frank’s preparing for an upcoming 100-mile running race.


Everything must go!


Fairport sunset

A Sinking Feeling

Author: Stephen

Cuyahoga, built in 1943, on the Cuyahoga.


It’s Monday, and I called in sick. I’ve had a cough for the past couple of days, and had a hard time sleeping last night. I might have come down with a cold, or it could be from hanging out with a dozen chain-smoking fishermen for a couple of days over the Fourth (which, if that was the price, was worth it).


I left Cleveland yesterday, July 8, about 8 a.m. I spent the night there at the Riverside Rowing Facility, a big warehouse on a reclaimed industrial site about a mile up the Cuyahoga (Crooked) River. No one was there when I landed on the long, low dock, and I eventually looked up the phone number for the place. Left a message with the director requesting a place to hang my hammock, but never heard back. Since asking permission didn’t work, I figured I’d ask for forgiveness later. As the burning afternoon sun melted into the skyline above me, I watched a couple of lakers, the Cuyahoga and American Courage, eel their way up the river. They had to negotiate a very tight S-curve along the river where I was, but they took great care not to crush Seaweed against the seawall.  Around midnight, I was awakened by a tug pulling the Cuyahoga, still pointed up river, back downriver. About 4 a.m., the American Courage came backing down, too, but under her own power.


American Courage passes Seaweed on her way upriver.


I rolled out of the hammock about 6:30 a.m., just as a fit young woman rolled up one of the big warehouse doors and carried out one of those impossibly skinny rowing shells. Other rowers started to arrive, and I presented my lodging explanation to a couple of guys putting oars on a tandem shell. They said I did the right thing in waiting to ask for forgiveness.


I quickly loaded Seaweed, and pushed off into the brown, trash filled river. A highway bridge arched high me, cars unseen. Abandoned grime-black railroad bridges were covered with ivy. I turned right at the mouth of the river, and headed past large, empty piers. The week’s worth of forecasted headwinds were arriving, and I pulled into one of the massive  slips to have a quick breakfast of water and mixed nuts. Then out a quarter mile into the lake to paddle along the four-mile stone break wall that parallels the city.  By the time I reached the end of the break wall, the swells were in the four-foot neighborhood, and I headed for a cove.


There were several boat ramps and a picnic area, so I tied up and took the lunch bag over a to a picnic table. I stayed a couple of hours, waiting for the wind to settle down. As I was getting ready to leave, I went into the restroom to fill up my water bag. When I came out, a tow boat was dragging a power boat that I had seen leave the ramp with couple of guys, a woman, and two kids, shortly after I arrived.


One of the guys  was still standing in the boat, which was riding very low in the water, and rest were in the tow boat. Just as they neared the dock, the stern went under, the guy in the boat swam away, and all that was left above water was the bow. Coolers, seat cushions and assorted containers floated away. I got in the canoe and paddled out to salvage what I could. I talked with the boat owner, and he told me their engine conked out, and waves forced the boat against the rock entrance to the cove, punching a hole in the hull. We talked about the wind and waves, and as he looked down at me from the dock, he told me I had a lot of work ahead of me. I looked at his boat, barely bobbing, and said, “Looks like you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you too.”



‘Round the Camp Fire

Author: Stephen

Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant just west of Sandusky, Ohio. And you thought you had NIMBY issues...


It’s almost 8 PM on July 7 and I’m waiting for the sun to go down. It’s hot, hot, hot, here on the banks of the muddy Cuyahoga. “95 degrees, feels like 112.” Feels more like 300 to me.


Been on the water, or trying to be, for two weeks. It’s been hotter than heater, with some amazing thunderstorms, but the trip’s been cool. Lots of people out on Lake Erie. Kayaks, jet skis, freighters, ferries, yachts, sailboats, and swimmers. Sport fishing boats everywhere, and they come in with coolers full. Wally Walleye is the lake mascot.


I’ve passed two nuke plants, one in Michigan and one in Ohio, and Ruth tells me that’s all of them. I’m thankful for that, as there is a restricted zone of at least a mile around them, and the wind and waves seem to be in your face at least two out of the three legs of the maneuver. The Davis-Besse plant had the added inconvenience of being located within the Camp Perry National Guard’s  “impact area,” a six-by-eight mile or so area of the lake closed down while the camp conducts target practice. The camp, near Port Clinton, claims to have the largest outdoor rifle firing range in the world. They don’t do this all the time, just when old guys in canoes are in the area. I can handle the mile-out, mile parallel to the shore, and the mile-back-in slog around the nuke buoys, but going six miles out, then eight miles, then six back? No thanks.  They block this section of the lake off from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. So I hung out a nearby marina until about 4:30 p.m., then headed out and arrived at the Impact Area buoy right at 5 p.m., and I started my trip around the nuke plant buoys. It took me a couple of hours to get around, but toward the end I had a great talk with my sister, Pamela, on the cell phone (it’s in a waterproof pouch, in my PFD, and I turn it on speaker so I can paddle and talk at the same time. Twenty-first century canoe, oh yeah.) As I neared a sandy shore shaded by tall cottonwoods, I saw an eagle lift from a limb, and herons and egrets strolled the water’s edge. I waxed poetic as I said good-bye to Pamela, and began scouting  the beach for a place to set camp. I landed, looked around, got back in the canoe and went up the beach a bit more. Then I spotted a sign that ordered “No Trespassing,” and something to the effect that unexploded ammunition might be under the sand somewhere, and you better get your ass out of there unless you wanted to lose it.


Danger on the beach


So, gingerly placing my paddle, I continued on my way, finally finding a spot a few more miles along the coast.


Tarptent's "Notch" set up on Seawind canoe, a go-anywhere shelter, on a beach composed primarily of mussel shells.


Eeek! I just surfed the net, and discovered there is  yet another nuke plant, this one about 45 miles northeast of Cleveland. Oh well, three nukes and bunch of live ammo can’t come close to the fun I had over the Fourth of July with the regulars at the Copper Kettle Marina in Beaver Park. Now those guys know how to have a blast…

Storm season

Author: Ruth

Sky over Toledo during the second wave of storms on July 1.


On June 29, 2012, the storm that knocked out power for more than 3 million people, knocked Stephen off Lake Erie. He had just paddled past Catawba Island and Marblehead in the sweltering heat, past countless marinas, but was forced to seek shelter at Cedar Point…almost underneath the roller coaster! Did you know that after the park closes, the loud rock and roll ceases, the people drive away and things finally quiet down, at about 1:30 AM you will be awakened by heavy duty cleaning machines that work all night so the next day’s revelers can dirty it up again?


View of June 29 campsite from the water, note ominous sky, as well as ubiquitous water color of western Lake Erie.


Lake Erie has been lucky for Stephen so far. Because his Spot GPS tracker failed, I traveled to the Sandusky area with a replacement unit. (Spot is working well now, follow Stephen’s progress by clicking on “Where’s Stephen Now?”)  We stayed in a hotel for a bit of relief from the heat, so the night the 70 mile per hour winds, tornado warnings and golf ball sized hail came through, Stephen was camped indoors. We were concerned that Seaweed, tied up at a nearby marina, may have been injured, but she was just wet when Stephen checked on her the next day.


Stephen stowing food in Seaweed at Mariner Village Marina on Sawmill Creek east of Sandusky. The staff there were extremely helpful. Thanks Nick, Jake and Erin!