It is about four a.m. I am lying in a wet sleeping bag on the cobblestones of Fort Schuyler, a helpless old bastion that once guarded the eastern approaches to New York. Although Fort Schuyler could not now repel a frontal assault by fanatical bunny rabbits, at the moment its stout walls are serving me and three comrades well. Outside the open sally port where we are bedded down, a tropical storm called Doria is doing her roaring best to qualify as a full-scale hurricane. This is canoeing at its wettest worst.
Two days ago when I embarked with five other voyageurs to rediscover the New York waterfront, I had two writing pads and a tape recorder. Yesterday morning before we started out in a downpour, I mistakenly threw the pad containing notes on our first day's travel in a garbage can. The other writing pad is still with me but so soggy that barely half its pages are good for anything except making spitballs.
I brought a tape recorder with me to pick up anything said by me or Chuck Stewart, the sternman in my canoe, as we paddled along. After draining rainwater out of the tape recorder half an hour ago, I turned it on and got a lot of noise. I daresay that in the three centuries since Marquette and Jolliet plied the Mississippi, there has never been a canoe trip as loud as this one.
Most of what the recorder played back is garble, but here and there in its din I recognize some of the particular sounds of the past two days: the thunder of a squall, the bluster of tropical storm Doria, the howl and whine of jets headed for La Guardia Airport and, occasionally, the flatulence of trucks on bridges. At one point on the tape I can make out the sad cry of herring gulls, and at another my own voice complaining, "We aren't making a foot of headway in this damn wind." After serving up mixed noises for 15 minutes, the recorder began coughing gutterally. Then it died altogether.
As I lie here on old stones in a storm, holding a flashlight in my mouth, writing on damp paper that barely supports a pen, I should be downcast, but I take comfort remembering that the famous 17th-century canoeist, Louis Jolliet, was a scant day's paddle from Montreal when he capsized and lost the entire journal of his Mississippi River adventure. Jolliet blew the whole deal, and I am well on the way to doing the same. Plus �a change, I say. Qu� ser�? And what the hell. Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow maybe it will not rain.
It is now about half an hour later. I cannot sleep, so I have put flashlight back in mouth and taken pen in hand to continue. It is not tropical storm Doria that keeps me awake but my own inner excitement and the lousy accommodations. At this point the sound of Doria is sweet. The louder she howls, the sooner she is apt to clear out of here and head for Connecticut, where she will no doubt have a ball uprooting 200-year-old elms and knocking steeples off historic churches.
The Navy-standard inflatable life vest that I planned to use for a pillow on this trip leaks. I have often slept without a pillow but never in a wet sleeping bag on stones that are about as comfy as a fakir's bed of nails. A wet sleeping bag clings. In the last half hour every time I turned over, seeking relief from the stones, part of the sleeping bag rolled with me. A couple more turns and I would have been impossibly wound up in it.
This was the second time I tried to go to bed tonight and failed. After a day of paddling in mist and squall, drizzle and pour, at about two this morning I retreated to Fort Schuyler with three of the other canoeists, John Stookey, Dery Bennett and Herschel Post. At that hour the heavy rain along the dirty leading edge of tropical storm Doria had let up, and the wind was barely enough to bend a sapling. So we bedded down in newfangled tents that are nothing like the old sidewall types I have used before.
Whenever the wind is too much for it, an old sidewall tent simply pulls up its stakes and takes off, leaving its occupants exposed. A fancy, modern tent of the sort we are using on this trip is supported by an exoskeleton of aluminum tubing and resembles a futuristic, thin-skinned beetle. Since it has a ground cover connected to its sides, when you crawl inside one of these modern tents you belong to it. The least puff of air starts it quivering. The first 10 minutes I spent in the tent John Stookey lent me I felt as if I were inside a large bowl of Jell-O.
I had slept scarcely 20 minutes this stormy morning when the quivering tent waked me. The wind had picked up. It was well over gale force to judge by the sound of it, and the tent was responding to each gust, a creature possessed. One minute the front end of it would rear up. When I threw my weight in that direction, the other end would leave the ground. By spread-eagling myself, I managed to keep it fairly level, but the tent was obviously eager to be on its way. As the wind increased I realized that any minute I might be the first camper ever to take off successfully and crash in a flying tent. By the time I decided to bail out, Stookey, Bennett and Post, my companions in similar tents, had already done so. After wrestling our billowing shelters into a portable state, the four of us regrouped in this sally port of the fort to finish out the night. Chuck Stewart and Cal Plimpton, the other two in our party, had already withdrawn a quarter mile down the road to sleep on sofas in a college lounge.