The Final Paddle to D.C. Dispatch: Urban Paddling Advice

Lessons from the last leg of the Freemans' 2,000-mile canoe journey: NYC to D.C.

Amy Freeman delivering 'Sig,' the petition canoe, to the steps of the White House. P

Amy Freeman delivering ‘Sig,’ the petition canoe, to the steps of the White House. Photo by Olivia Ridge

By Amy Freeman

Dave and I unlocked the gate of the North Brooklyn Canoe Club as the sun was rising over a rough, industrial part of New York City. Located on top of another Superfund site, this was our access to the water. Donning our drysuits, winter hats and paddle mitts, we launched our canoe awkwardly from the floating dock and paddled out on the opaque water of Newtown Creek.

This was the beginning of the most urban paddling of our lives. Ferries plowed back and forth, leaving huge wakes that forced outside the main channel. We spent a few moments floating just beyond the restricted zone near the Statue of Liberty–the closest either of us had ever been to her. From a distance, we took in the urban beauty of Manhattan.

Between here and Washington, D.C., the bustle didn't let up. We wound our way past New York's morning rush hour, past the massive tankers and barges from one of the busiest ports in the world, and then down the series of rivers, canals and portages that would lead us to our final destination.

Although we planned to continue camping on this section, we didn't have to thanks to the generosity of so many great folks we met along the way.

The day we finally arrived in D.C., it was raining and the temperature was just a few degrees above freezing, but that didn't stop hearty Minnesotans and members of the Washington Canoe Club from meeting us on the Potomac to paddle the final leg of our journey with us. As we pulled up to the dock, landing our canoe, Sig, for the last time, tears welled up in my eyes.

Photo by Nate Ptacek

The group grew for the final stretch of the journey. Photo by Nate Ptacek

The emotional moment was just that—a moment as our schedule for the next four days was so packed with meetings and presentations that it made canoeing, sailing and portaging 2,000 miles appear relaxed in comparison.

The journey was a success in that our voices–along with the voices of the 45 Minnesotans who joined us in D.C. and everyone who signed the petition–were heard, but we still have a lot of work to do. Dave and I are on our way back home now (by car), but Sig will remain in Washington, D.C., on display at the Forest Service Headquarters. The online petition is still active (in case you haven't signed it yet). I hope you share it and our 8-minute video with anyone you know who paddles or cares about wild places.

Photo by Nate Ptacek

Photo by Nate Ptacek

Urban Paddling Tips:
-Local paddling clubs are your best resource to find out access points and local knowledge about a waterway—call them up before heading into an unfamiliar urban paddling scenario.

-Use your VHF radio. Sure you can use it in an emergency, but you can also use it to monitor what ferry captains are saying. We've communicated numerous times with ferry and tugboat captains to figure out the best way to navigate past them.

-Dress for immersion. You may not intend to swim in sketchy-looking, polluted water, but you should still be prepared for a capsize.

-Be visible. Bright colors are good.

Last week, Dave and Amy Freeman delivered their message about the sulfide ore-mining threat to the Boundary Waters and their signature-laden canoe ‘Sig’ to the nation’s capital, completing their 2,000-mile route from Minnesota to Washington. See their map.

— Read their updates and more paddling advice from the expedition: Part I: Lessons from the Grand Portage, Part II: Superior Paddling Destinations, Part III: Upstream Travel Advice, Part IV: Destination Mattawa River, and Part V: Canoe Cart Portaging Tips

— Watch Nate Ptacek‘s film on the Freeman’s expedition and cause.

Photo by Nate Ptacek

Photo by Nate Ptacek