Archive for April, 2010

‘Twas a beautiful Saturday in late April, upper 60s with just a few wispy clouds in the sky.  With a few hours in the middle of the day to kill, I decided to take a quick kayak trip to enjoy the weather and the blossoming spring foliage.  With Kathy working at the Habitat for Humanity Restore I was once again solo on my paddle.  I figured I would take the easy and uninteresting trip from the Passaic River’s access point on South Orange Avenue.  My plan was to travel as far upstream as I could until I hit a portage point due to a downed tree.  I figured this would happen because we really haven’t had any significant rains in 3 to 4 weeks since the floods of late March.

The Passaic River today was a much different river than the expansive flooded river system I previously encountered.  On this trip, I just witnessed remnants of that flooded period.  The banks of the river were dark, wet and muddy from the floods.  Accessing the river was a little muddy but due to the placement of a few key rocks , a 2×4 and an old welcome mat,  I was able to get in the river pretty clean.  Getting out of the river was also fairly uneventful.  I did gfet out parallel to the riverside, using a tree to hoist my body out of the kayak.  From there I kind of just carried the boat out of the water directly to the parking lot, avoiding a muddy exit for the most part.

I got into the river no problem and headed up stream.  In what seemed like 10 minutes I reached a blockage in the river that would have required me to get out of my kayak to get through.  This was in just about a half mile.  I didn’t think it was worth getting out of the kayak on this casual day on the river.  I knew what I was in store when I came out on the Passaic, I was more into the relaxation on the water more so than the exploration.  I therefore turned around at this point and headed back downstream.  There is a swampy area by some big concrete pipes that we have been in before that I decided to go into for as far as I could.  It wasn’t too far but it gave me a place to go.  I actually saw a small bird with a sharp pointy beak that I have never seen before.  It was standing in the water eating some food.  I saw a few of them in there.

I also saw a family of 5 in a canoe   some time later.  They told me about a heron they saw and some duck but I never saw the blue heron.  I’ve seen them before on many other an occasion on this stretch of the Passaic.  While I did see some ducks they were always fleeing down the river as I approached.

I took the river past my starting point and headed down under the South Orange Ave bridge.  I had paddled a mile only a mile and I also knew I could only go so far until I encountered another blockage with the water levels being as low as they were. While it was significantly further than my upstream leg, the downstream portion of the trip was nothing to write about, so I’m trying my best.  It was another 1.2 miles to the turn around point and another 1.2 miles back.  The entire trip was 3.4 miles in about two and one half hours so as you can tell, I took it easy, seldom paddling and just listening to some music from my iPhone in wireless bluetooth headphones.  Sweet! For the record, a Karen Ackers bootleg I mixed singing the show tunes of Kander and Ebb and also Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I paddled with the beat.  It was a beautiful day so I took it for what it was worth, an easy paddle under beautiful blue skies.

For those who track such nonsense, below is the timeline based on the time and GPS stamps of the pictures I took:

  • 1:46 p.m. Car is unloaded at South Orange Ave. parking lot and access point
  • 1:47 p.m. First picture in the water and heading upstream
  • 2:02 p.m. Pass entrance to open swampy area
  • 2:05 p.m. Reach furthest upstream extent of the trip at the blockage
  • 2:19 p.m. Go into swampy open area, “That’s what she said.”
  • 2:32 p.m. Leave swampy area
  • 2:52 p.m. Reach the starting point of the trip
  • 3:31 p.m. Reach furthest downstream extent of the trip by the Cedar Hill Country Club
  • 4:17 p.m.  Take my last picture on the water and pack up for camera in preparation for landing.

I used that stump sticking out of the water to pull my boat close to the shore and lift my body out of the boat.  Using the rocks I was able to pull the boat cleanly on shore and carry it out to the car without too much mud.  It worked well but I could have just as easily slipped and fallen into the water.

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Searching for the ghosts of Jimmy Hoffa and Pussy from the Sopranos.

I discovered this access point to a kayak trip recently while surfing the Internet.  I knew getting into the water at this location would be fairly easy and accessible.  The issue was the so-called water.  We were to venture to a new river basin in a much more industrialized portion of the so-called Garden State.  The choice was made to kayak the Hackensack River and the Meadowlands marsh somewhere off of the new Exit 15X on the Turnpike.

The Empire State Building looms majestically to the east.

While not generating an image of the Garden State at this location, it does conjure up visions of New Jersey like no other kayaking trip I have been on.  New York City is clearly visible to the east, Newark to the southwest, Secaucus to the northeast and the Meadowlands to the north. Let’s not forget the landfills to the west of us.   Above us we had all the jets lining up to land at Newark Airport and straddling us closely on seemingly all sides were the eastern and western spurs of the New Jersey Turnpike with all the bridges and causeways used to bypass the water I was paddling on.  This was a trip down New Jersey’s memory lane that is reminiscent of the opening scene in the Sopranos.

Through all the muck and mire of industrialized New Jersey was an easy paddling that was an interesting water system.  We have only been to the suburban upstream portions of the Passaic, Rockaway and Delaware, as well as a couple of secluded reservoirs, so this was our first urban paddle.  I found it fascinating and interesting with the greatest variety and quantity of bird life that we have encountered so far.

It’s actually hard to say where we were.  It could have been Secaucus, Jersey City or even North Arlington.  We were in the type of swamp no one wants to claim except the decomposed body parts of Jimmy Hoffa.  With no one claiming the swamp but the ghosts of the aforementioned Jimmy Hoffa and Pussy from the Sopranos, Kathy and I decided to claim the swamp for ourselves.  Except for people fishing along the shore, I wouldn’t eat the fish by the way, there was no one out on the water.  While motor boats are probably allowed along the water we saw nothing.  There were countless cars and trucks whizzing by us but no one on the water.  We had the swamp to ourselves.

This was a super short and easy paddle.  It was only 2.7 miles in a loop and there was no current in the river.   While I think tides do something around here in the 90 minutes we were on the water, I noticed nothing.   The concrete boat ramp at the park made accessing the water, in and out a dry breeze.  I think this would be true in any water level.  Therefore, for a 35 minute trip from home this give me great access to a river system that is kayakable at all water levels and foliage is not important as far as the beauty the trip goes.

This location is very photogenic with respect to having so many open vistas.  At dusk, photographing kayak trip in this area will prove quite beautiful.  I can’t wait to do it.  I have a feeling this will become a favorite pace to come to for solo after work kayak trips in the summer.  I’m bound to catch many a colorful sunset over the gloriously polluted New Jersey skies that will make photographing Newark at sunset a true Garden State experience.

There were a few more firsts on this trip besides the whole Hackensack River Meadowlands marsh thing.  First of all this was the first time my Fit carried two kayaks and it survived.  Secondly, this was the first time I used my new GPS unit for my Nikon D200 camera.  My pictures all get automatically geo-stamped with latitude and longitudinal coordinates.  It’s great looking at the pictures in Google Picasa with a Google map showing where each picture was taken.  It eats up some batty power, so I should get an additional battery for the camera, but I love the additional information encoded in my digital pictures.

Timeline of the trip based on the time and GPS-stamps of the photos:

  • 11:27 a.m. Cars packed in the driveway
  • 12:52 p.m. Parked at Laurel Hill Park Launch Site
  • 12:58 p.m. First photo in the river
  • 1:05 p.m. Enter a corridor in the Meadowlands after crossing the Hackensack River
  • 1:14 .m. Enter the openness after the corridor closer to the Western spur of the Turnpike
  • 1:33 p.m. Locate the northern corridor through the marsh along the western spur of the Turnpike
  • 1:36 p.m. Find an opening in the swamps with egrets, ducks and geese so we take pictures.
  • 1:53 p.m. Go as far north as we would in the marsh, by the NJ Transit train tracks and turn east to head home.
  • 1:59 p.m. Photograph 2 hawks soaring above the Laurel Hill by the eastern spur of the Turnpike.
  • 2:04 p.m. Back in the Hackensack River observing a swan/white goose to the north of us.
  • 2:16 p.m. Start heading home on the short downstream on the Hackensack
  • 2:28 p.m. Last picture on the water
  • 2:49 p.m. Car is packed and loaded

The serenity of the brackish marsh.

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It’s an extremely hot and sunny Easter Sunday here in New Jersey, yet the rivers are still flooded from last week’s rains so I figured I would complete this 4 day weekend with my 3rd kayak paddling adventure.  Today I decided to enter the Passaic River at the Pio Costa industrial park off of Bloomfield Avenue.  This is a new launch site for me but I have seen it from the road and from the river and always wanted to try it.  Being private land I wasn’t too keen on the idea, but there is lots of room back there along the river behind the warehouses.  I read someone’s trip logs where they recommended this parking lot for access, so I figured I would take the chance.  Being Easter Sunday I assumed no one would be there anyway.

I quickly got unloaded which was expedited by my own stupidity.  I first took the straps off the Thule Hulla-Port J Carriers and then when taking off the stern anchor rope off the iBolt the entire kayak came tumbling off the roof and onto the asphalt parking lot.  Fortunately, the kayak seemed okay but I suffered a bad rope burn across my right arm.  No big deal but a scar to remind me never to do this again.  I kept going forward and got the kayak ready for taking off and got into the water at 11:15.  Ready for what would be an 8-mile kayak trip paddled in 3 hours.

The water came right up to the  parking lot and I launched the kayak parallel to the shore and had no problem pushing off.  The current was pretty strong at that section, seems to be the case at the access points, and it took me a second to get my bearings and get the camera out.  At that moment I unexpectedly saw a police car pulled up to my parked car, looked around and pulled away.  I think he saw me in the river and wasn’t too concerned but it did concern me during the paddle that my car may not the there when I get back or it may have a ticket.  Neither was the case.

I was on my way snapping pictures to more so to mark the time rather than getting nice pictures.  Like the days before, the foliage was still in its winter hibernation and there was little color to see.  Paddling up the flooded Passaic was strenuous but I kept a steady paddle forging ahead.  After passing through the Bloomfield Avenue bridge and the Kevah school bus terminal I left civilization and the river’s current behind me.

There was no wildlife, no fish, just a few bugs and small birds but nothing to photograph.  Just me and my blue-tooth headphones.  I didn’t even have a new Adam Carolla podcast to listen to.  He was even on absent from Carcast, who was I going to listen to Sandy Ganz?  I resorted to listening to shuffled music and enjoyed it .  I even got an appropriate Brokedown Palace with all its reference to flowing rivers.

In 25 minutes I reached the mouth of the Rockaway River and made a right turn up it.  Kathy and I had ventured up this section of the Rockaway once before in November 2009 but much shallower water made the fallen trees an issue.  The flooded river today made all those type of issues non-existent.

In about 20 minutes since entering the Rockaway I went past the point I stopped and turned around in November and started exploring new territory.  That’s a bonus for me on any kayak trip.  My goal was to head toward the Whippany River and the area close to the MCMUA transfer station along New Edwards Road.

The whole area was flooded from the prior rains so what was and wasn’t river was tough to decipher at times.  I really appreciate my iPhone for all it does for me out there.  It plays music, makes calls, tweets in case of emergency and it gives me a GPS.  These are a great things and the GPS helps me keep track of my route and a perspective on my time.  It gets me to where I want to go pretty accurately and confidently.

I entered the swamp land that goes along north of Route I-280 and the exit ramp for Edwards Road.  Usually that wouldn’t be that flooded as it was and it was kayakable today.  I could see the swamp grasses through the water below me.

I found my way back to the river channel and came to the mouth of the Whippany.  That is where you encounter the Sharkeys Landfill (Superfund site) which is also the location of the Parsippany-Troy Hills Wastewater (sewage) Treatment Plant.  Just down New Edwards road is our transfer station.  It was further away from the river than I expected.

I took the left turn at the landfill and headed toward the terminus of New Edwards Road which is closer to the MCMUA transfer station. The river current picked up here in the Whippany.  All the flood waters from the other side of Ridgedale Ave. and I-280 was draining right toward me.  Like all the current I discuss in the Passaic , it is really no problem paddling through.  Choke points around bridges and concrete embankments is a way of kayaking.  The flood gauge at the end of the road read 7.16 feet.  I really don’t know what it means but I was there to read it.  Hopefully, I’l be here once again to read the gauge.  I guess I could read it from the end of the road, using it as an access point, and if it’s high enough, it’s worth putting the kayak in.  This area is obvious reliant on the level of the water more so than the Passaic.

I crossed under 3 bridges, 2 for I-208 and the last for Ridgedale Ave.  After that the entire area opened up to the expansive Troy Meadows which were flooded for as far as the eye could see.  On the western horizon I see the bunkers which tower above Powder Mill in the far distance.  While the Whippany follows the Troy Meadows to the right I took a tributary that feeds into the meadows to the left for a few minutes.

My paddle up the Whippany for today ended at a big power easement tower located near the end of Stmis Lane in East Hanover.  I turn around here and headed back.  My ass was hurting by then, I have been in the kayak a lot over the past few days.

On the way back I decided to tour the Rockaway River in between two cells of the Shakeys Landfills.  I discovered an old stone hearth standing majestically by the water.  There were also hunting stands darted amongst the river-scape.  I’m sure it’s landscape during drier times.  It’s going to be mosquito-scape soon.   There is actually a bridge that crosses the river from landfill cell to landfill cell.

It was just past this landfill bridge where I turned around once again to head home.  It was located behind the small strip mall offices located along New Road heading toward Route 46.  With turning around, the current, if there was any, would be with me.

Breakers from the landfill. They look ike they are made with a fabric cover.

When I finally started going down the Rockaway and approached the confluence with the Passaic River, I got lost a bit in the flooded jungle but my trusty GPS and the high water level told me not to worry. I ran into the Passaic River a few hundred yards upstream from where I had left it.  You wouldn’t nor could you do that if the flooding wasn’t as severe as it was.

Once I picked u the Passaic River it was just a matter of hauling ass to the take out point.  I had to piss and my ass was killing me.  I addition, the sunny 75-degree weather was beating down on me.  In no time I made to to the take-out point and was pleased to see my car there.  I also saw another car there which belong to these two river hobo types that were fishing in the river where I parked.  As I approached the area they asked if I was getting out.  When I confirmed they moved their rods out of the way.  This was a steep, parallel to the shore exit which was going to be tricky and I was not excited about doing it in front of two people.  Fortunately, I drifted into the shoreline, backwards and one of the guys pulled me out of the river back first.  I got out dry and clean.  Fifteen minutes later I was packed up and heading home.  New territory and a new launch site.

The timeline of the trip based on photo time-stamps as well as tweets was:

  • 10:39 a.m. – Leaving my house with kayak on roof
  • 11:01 a.m. – Parked at Pio Costa parking lot on Bloomfield Ave ready to unload
  • 11:09 a.m. – Kayak on side of river ready to go in
  • 11:13 a.m. – Tweet from the bank of the river that I’m going in.
  • 11:15 a.m. – In the water taking my first picture
  • 11:19 a.m. – Go under the Bloomfield Ave. bridge.
  • 11:27 a.m. – Going past Kevak Korner bus company dispatch yard in Montville
  • 11:49 a.m. – (1.25 miles) Tweet that I’m at the mouth of the Rockaway River and baring right to go up it.
  • 12:10 p.m. – Reach the the furthest extent point from 11-8-2009 trip, from here on is new territory
  • 12:15 p.m.  – Enter flooded swamp along Edwards Road exit ramp off I-280
  • 12:25 p.m. – (2.5 miles) Tweet That I’m at the Sewage treatment plant and the mouth of the Whippany
  • 12:27 p.m. – Enter the mouth of the Whippany as I make a left at the sewage plant toward New Edward’s Road and I-280.
  • 12:32 p.m. – Reach New Edward’s Road terminus and read flood gauge which read 7:16
  • 12:36 p.m. – (2.85 miles) Go under I-280 and Ridgedale Ave. bridges
  • 12:55 p.m. -(3.4 miles)  Tweet that I’m at the turn around oint off the Whippany near Stimis Ave.
  • 1:05 p.m.  – (3.95 miles) Go back under Ridgedale Ave. and I-280 bridges
  • 1:08 p. m. – go back past New Edwards Road terminus.
  • 1:15 p.m. – (4.30 miles) Back at mouth of Whippany where it meets Rockaway at sewage treatment pant sign.
  • 1:26 p.m. – (4.85 miles) Approach Sharkey’s Landfill bridge that spans the Rockaway.
  • 1:29 p.m. – (4.95 miles) Reach turn-around point on Rockaway River as I explore the landfills.
  • 1:34 p.m. – Tweet that I’ve explored Sharkeys Landfill and am heading back.
  • 1:40 pm. –  (5.6 miles) Heading away from landfills
  • 2:00 p.m. – (6.7 miles) Tweeted that I’m back on the Passaic River.
  • 2:15 p.m.  – (7.84 miles) About to go back under the Bloomfield Ave. bridge
  • 2:18 p.m. – Take the last picture from the river before stowing the camera away in preparation for landing
  • 2:23 p.m. – (8.00 miles) Kayak on shore
  • 2:34 p.m.  -Kayak on and ready to go
  • 2:35 p.m.  – Tweet that the car is packed and I’m driving out of Pio Costa parking lot.

MCMUA Transfer Station just down the road.

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