The New York Spare Seat Kayak Expedition

Adventure Stats: 

Weather Conditions: Few stormy days but generally I only remember so many great days

Miles: 510

Duration: 21 days

High Points: Getting such a warm welcome, Forest Gump moments with over 300 people joining us, Statue of Liberty, Niagara Falls, Communities, Ringing up New York with an idea and getting a green light. See www.thespareseat.com

Low Points: Leaving each community along the way

Team: Richard Harpham, Glenn Charles, Simon Bevan(transport), all the communities, Scott Keller, Markly Wilson,

A MillionThanks: Aquabound Paddles, Vango Tents, Paramo, Bamboo Clothing, Reed Chillcheater, Clothing, Leatherman, Delta Airlines, New York State Tourism, Mountain Fuels

I still look back at this adventure and smile a beaming grin thinking of it. From a single phone call to pitch the Spare Seat kayak idea to New York State to winning an international travel marketing award valued at a $1 million PR campaign. The journey of 510 miles saw us kayak two double kayaks from Niagara Falls to the Statue of Liberty via the Erie Canal and the Hudson River Way.  Every day we were joined by random people who filled the ‘Spare Seat’. See www.thespareseat.com  for the full story and daily blogs.

The stats, sharing the journey with 29 different spare seaters including 2 lucky UK competition winners and almost 300 people who joined us in a Forest Gump style with their own boats (spare seats).  In total the expedition was shared through different media (radio, TV, magazines and others to almost 200 million people.

We started our journey in the tall buildings and silos of ‘Silo City’ in Buffalo and were joined by almost 300 school children, 5-6 TV crews as well as local press and dignitaries including serving senators and a state governor.  Usually as kayakers we put on our kit, adjust our boats and leave in our own time. This time we were on other people’s schedules including the local TV news. We hopped into our kayaks under the watchful eye of a large crowd and paddled off downstream.

Just round the corner we stopped to adjust our foot pegs, stretch our legs and then paddle on. The flow on the Buffalo River was immense and we made good progress to our all important right turn into the Erie Canal. Missing this was mean a long drop over the Falls!  The Canal completed in 1825 by De Witt Clinton was a major trade route and significantly bigger than UK canals.

We swapped ‘spare seaters’ and paddled on towards the first big lock system at Lockport. This set the tone with a magnificent reception from the local people. We said a few words, local people showered us in kind words of encouragement and good food and we grabbed a good nights rest. Next day we paddled on and the process of connecting with a community repeated itself.

It is impossible to do justice to all the incredible people that we met on this trip.  We became a mirror for highlighting to community after community how great they really were.  Each place offered a small window into their community, their attractions and achievements and shared their heritage. It was a humbling experience for both Glenn and I.  We visited Medina, home of tailors who made shirts for famous people included Winston Churchill. 

We were joined by many paddlers who came to see what the Spare Seat was about including Casy, 5 months out of open heart surgery, Cody White, owner of Nomadic SUP and a paddleboard racer and one family who travelled 8 hours to join us and featured 3 generations from a 6 month old baby to the grandfather and plenty of family members in between.  We just kept on paddling and making friends at each destination.

We paddled through Oneida Lake and Sylvan Beach where we saw the kayak eco tours and the amazing Len Cross at Fort Rickey Discovery Zoo. (still crosses my mind to put in an offer to buy that place). Other amazing places Seneca Falls, first women’s Rights Congress and the Finger Lakes with Justin at Fuzzy Guppies, Dave at the three brothers winery and so it continued. The paddling changed as we entered the Mohawk River Valley. We enjoyed a castle at Amsterdam to add to the list of incredible experiences.

We arrived into Albany the State Capital and were hosted by Mayor Jennings who had received President Obama the day before. Things had reached a ridiculous level as we stepped out of our kayaks in a huge downpour to be greeted by 6 TV crews and media. By proclamation the mayor declared it Glenn and Richard day in Albany. Long may that continue.

We left the comfort of the Erie Canal at the Troy Lock and remembered to turn right on the River Hudson for New York City, the Big Apple.  The river was stunning and like so much of our journey offered history, heritage and stories of our forefathers.  The first real environmental movement had been started here by Pete Seagers and the Clearwater Revival as protestors sought to stop a huge development. There was a change of law in the Congress to allow everyday folk to fight against it.

We paddled past the Clearwater Sloop now a youth project and witnessed how the once polluted Hudson had been cleaned up by the work of so many good people and communities. We also passed West Point Military Academy located on the site where the British had been defeated during the battle for Independence. I was asked what I thought to the loss and how it must be tough. I retorted that some things aren’t worth fighting for.

We camped at Stony Point amongst the reenactment relics and museum sight which was a definite first. The ‘Big Apple’ was now within touching distance. One of our final days was in Yonkers where the famous kayak club offered us a great reception and we also got to spend time on the Science Barge with Captain Bob.  From Yonkers we could see the Manhattan Skyline which signaled the end of our epic journey.

The final day like so many had a real sting in the tail with strong winds, and fog shrouding the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island. It also made life quite dangerous with lots of marine traffic in and around. We finished at Pier 40 and do a couple of quick interviews but nothing like the media frenzy at the start or on the journey. We decide to paddle the Statue section the next day for safety reasons and head to the Gershwin Hotel for scrub up.  We finish our epic paddle in front of the Statue of Liberty the next day with Simon Bevan, Glenn Charles, Iain King of the Scottish Sun and myself, it is poetic. We complete the ‘Wedding of the Waters’ pouring water from the Erie Lake into the Atlantic, which was first done in 1825.

So many people to thank and connections made. The fact it then went on to win an international travel marketing award was a great bonus for all the hard work by so many. After all we were just the two kayakers doing what we love doing.

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