Sunday, October 8, 2017

Apples and Goat Yoga

We have always loved a fall trip to pick apples. In fact, just today while looking through some old photos I found pictures of us picking apples with my friend Charles back in 1988. I didn't scan the pictures - but trust that I had enormous 1980's glasses and a pitiful mustache. I also found some pictures of us with Teddy & David on an apple-picking trip, probably in the early 2000's.

With some beautiful fall weather on tap (can we still say "Indian Summer"?) Valerie and I headed out to Markham, VA to pick some apples at Stribling Orchard.

This was a great year for apples. We've been going to the Markham orchards for years and I've never seen the trees bursting with beautiful, juicy apples the way they were this year. We picked to our hearts content until our bags were straining with a bushel full of apples.

When we were paying, Valerie chatted with one of the women working the cash registers and, through that amazing ability to instantly create rapport that Valerie has and I do not (I'm jealous of it), the woman took a break from working the register to slice up various apples from the bins so we could taste different varieties.

Taste test

American Gothic

After a quick lunch at Chick-fil-A (I was angling for the salad bar at Wegman's, but took a wrong turn) we continued on to our next excitement: goat yoga! Which is exactly what it sounds like it is. Over the years, the traditional focus and asceticism of yoga has yielded to "fun" combinations - yoga and beer, paddleboard yoga, yoga at The Kennedy Center, and even yoga while getting high (a cousin of Valerie's teaches a "yoganja" class in Washington state). And of course, there are animal variants: puppy yoga, kitten yoga, and (bringing us back to our main topic), goat yoga.

The class we went to was at a farm in Nokesville. It was a beautiful setting alongside the shore of Lake Manassas. As you do your yoga practice, goats, chickens and alpaca wander around through the class. The chickens and alpaca are skittish, but goats are quite friendly, and it's not uncommon to have someone stop their yoga practice to pick up and cuddle a baby goat. In fact, the whole class pauses here and there for goat time.

Goat yoga is a little chaotic - perhaps not for the yoga purist. As this CNN article points out, a goat might come along and pee on your mat (we saw this happen), and your peaceful shavasana might be interrupted by a gentle head butt (or worse yet, a goat chewing on your hair - not a problem I would have), but it sure is a lot of fun. The goats are ADORABLE.

We were among the oldest people there. I guess gimmick yoga is primarily a Millenial thing ...





Thursday, September 28, 2017

Thousand Islands Part 4: Wrapping it Up

Thursday 9/14

With only two days left of paddling, we decided to do another long outing: a trip through the Navy Islands and Raft Narrows to the Thousand Islands Bridge. This was another nice trip even though the outbound portion was my least favorite bit of paddling on the trip. Knowing that this was going to be another trip with long miles and strong currents, the night before the trip we had a group discussion. Since I was a little slower than the rest of the group, to some extent all week I had felt like when we were on the water I had to just paddle, paddle, paddle to keep up with the group. No stopping to catch my breath or take photos. Limited quick sips of water and no snack breaks. And still, I always felt a half step or so behind the group. I asked if we could take breaks every once in a while. Likewise, Rob requested that we stop occasionally so he could stretch his back. With two of the six of us requesting breaks, of course the response was that the remainder of the group ... paddled like they were being chased by f*cking sharks without taking a single break the whole eight miles to the bridge.
Approaching the Thousand Islands Bridge

Happy, despite working hard at paddling

Actually, the trip started with a sop to me. When we did our re-positioning I had forgotten to reload my pill container and so needed to stop by the car to refresh my supply of meds, so we started the day by paddling back to Misty Isles. Since we were going to the cars we also took the opportunity to transport some gear back - the less we had to pack out on Saturday, the easier it was going to be. So, we paddled to Misty Isles, and then we paddled like we were being chased by f*cking sharks the whole f*cking eight miles to the bridge. In the area just before the bridge, as the river narrows down, as promised in the water trail guide, there were indeed strong and squirrely currents; however, it was nothing we couldn't handle with a little boat control and some extra paddling effort drawn, in my case, from my very minimal reserve.

Fighting the current was kind of tiring. Fortunately, an island in close proximity to the bridge offered a very pleasant spot for lunch, the (technically closed) park on Georgina Island. We pulled out there and walked the island - like all the other camping areas we visited, it was deserted (except for some power boaters anchored in a cove). We spread out in the sunshine on the (technically closed) dock and had a nice lunch, resting up from our exertions. Tom had forgotten to bring his lunch, but fortunately we had lots of extra food (why was Suzanne carrying so many packs of peanut butter crackers??!) and were able to feed him. I had my one meat lunch of the week - perky turkey jerky!
Me again (Rob's picture)
Lunch break at the bridge (Rob's picture)


On the paddle back it was like I was with a different group. Maybe someone had whispered something, or maybe it was just that the f*cking sharks were no longer chasing us. On the beginning of the trip (against the strong current) we "eddied out" in calm spots sheltered by islands to rest. We took a mid-point break at the (technically closed) park on Mulcaster Island. And overall we set a much more leisurely pace. I was much happier and got to enjoy the scenery on the trip back.

We got back early enough to have a little happy hour and for me to relax in my hammock. We were near the trip and still had plenty of fuel left, so I actually heated water on the stove and added it into the solar shower, which provided me with my second hot shower of the week. Dinner was a camping adaptation of Jen's famous Chicken Marbella.

Friday 9/15

We had one "must do" trip left on our list - a paddle up Landon's Bay. This is a pretty, skinny stretch of water with high rick canyons on either side and a small waterfall at its far end. We had been warned, both by friends who had paddled there just weeks earlier and by Gail at Misty Isles that the creek was chocked with duckweed - a thick aquatic plant. However, when we had driven over the entrance to the bay it looked clear and so we decided to give it a go.

Except that we had to wait. We awoke Friday to dense fog. Thick, can't see anything kind of fog. Our plans for an early start changed to a leisurely breakfast as we waited for the fog to lift. Fortunately, by about 10 AM we began to see the outlines of other nearby islands and by 10:30 it was clear enough to launch. Landon's Bay was not far from Misty Isles and so we had a pretty good idea of how to get there (as well as GPS waypoints, of course). The fog continued to lift as we paddled and by the time we got there it was a bright grey sort of light - actually very pretty for viewing the cliffs.
Eagle

The cliffs at Landons Bay

As we continue (seeing an eagle along the way) we started to encounter the duckweed and by the time we got to the back of the creek we were paddling through a thick green muck with floating solid blobs. Not super pleasant, particularly when we had to clamber through the stuff to get ashore for a lunch break (I almost gave up finding a place to land that wasn't totally mucky). Still, lunch at the waterfall was very pleasant, and when we got back we all spent time washing, as best we could, the duckweed slime from our boats. The challenge is that duckweed consists of zillions of tiny little leaves which are really hard to completely get rid of.

Our lunch break spot (Rob's pic)

It really was gloppy back there (Rob's pic)

Our last night's dinner was a pot luck. Rob had actually brought food (some more Tastybite Indian dinners) specifically for the pot luck, but the rest of us just put out our leftover food. Cheese, fig newtons, roasted chickpeas, apricots, peanut butter crackers, bread, trail mix, carrots, leftovers from prior nights, bourbon, more bourbon ... It was like a camping version of an Indonesian Rijsttafel. We always say that no one goes hungry on these trips, and even just eating leftovers made for a good meal.

I don't remember what day this was but it's a nice group photo

After dinner we did the dishes* and began to break camp in preparation for heading out the following morning. Down came some of the glamping gear: the shower, my hammock, etc. The solar panels were packed away. And so on. It was a cloudy night, so not much star-gazing to be done. We went to be early.

Saturday 9/16

We once again awoke to thick fog. Fortunately, by this time we had made the trip back and forth to Misty Isles enough times that we were sure we could do it even if we were socked in by fog. Our main concern was crossing the recreational boat channel with zero visibility.

This was the easiest packing and loading of the trip, as we had all used up most of our food and we had already brought some gear back - we all had plenty of room in our boats. It was still pretty foggy when we hit the water a little before 10 AM. We kept our eyes on the compass and the GPS, paddled a tight pattern, and listened carefully for other boats. Rob and Jim were out front. Tom was towing the canoe and Suzanne was once again behind it. Jen and I paddled on either side of  the canoe. Rob was doing a good job of setting a course but the current and the canoe conspired to constantly turn Tom, so as I paddled I provided course guidance to him ("turn about 10 degrees right"). If you look at the track you can see that early in the trip we twice actually let the current push us 90 degrees off course before we caught ourselves and corrected course. As we paddled we got better at dynamic course correction and were able to paddle a straight line the rest of the way back to Misty Isles. We did encounter a few power boats along the way. Fortunately we had a loud whistle/horn which we used as a fog horn to alert them of our presence, and we didn't have any problems.


Pea soup

Back at Misty Isles we, one more time, unpack the boats and loaded everything into our cars. We held our breath as we crossed the border, still worried that our Canadian check-in experience from Boldt Castle was going to trip us up as we tried to re-enter the U.S.. Fortunately, we had no problem (well, except for the one person who was subjected to a random selection to be pulled over for a thorough search) and we celebrated a great trip with a final meal together at the Watertown, NY Cracker Barrel.

Now, to start planning next year's adventure ...

By the way, here's a link to a map showing all our daily tracks.

*Have you ever wondered how we wash dished on these trips with limited clean water? It's a multi-step process, starting with scraping the plates, then rinsing them in unfiltered water, followed by washing them in warm, soapy, filtered water, and finally a rinse in filtered water with a tinny bit of bleach in it to kill off any remaining nasties. I tried to convince the group that my cardiologist had forbidden me from doing any dishes on the trip, but no one fell for it.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Thousand Islands Part 3: Grenadier to Sugar

Monday, 9/11

Monday was going to be one of our long days - a paddle to Boldt Castle. This meant paddling the length of Grenadier Island and then island hopping to the castle on Heart Island, for a total of about fifteen miles round trip. Jen had really wanted to go to Boldt Castle, and I did too. There is family lore about a family vacation visit to Boldt Castle when I was young. As a child I had my share of irrational phobias. As the tale is told, I spent our entire time at Boldt Castle fretting about missing the boat back to the mainland and pleading to go "back to the boat dock" as soon as possible. As it happens, I recently had some old home movies digitized including, as it happens, footage from our trip to the Thousand Islands. In the film I appear to be having a perfectly fine time at the castle. I don't doubt that my fears of getting marooned there were real, but I suspect my insistence on waiting at the dock for the tour boat has been magnified over years of retelling. In any case, I was ready for a confident return to the castle (via my own boat, which was not going to leave without me).

Our trip there was against the current and into the wind, so it was a bit of a slow slog. We detoured a little bit to look at an old lighthouse and we made another stop to check out the campsites at the middle of Grenadier Island. This area of the island is more of a campground - many more sites and more facilities (picnic shelters, bathrooms, etc.). Being a weekday after Labor Day, it was empty. Also, I saw a mink in the wild!

Towards the end of the trip there I started to feel twinges of pain in my chest. Based on the trauma caused by my recent surgery I get a great many weird aches in my chest. The doctors have reassured me that such pain is nothing to worry about - however, pain in my chest could also signal the onset of a heart attack, which is an urgent medical concern. As a result, I freak out whenever chest pain appears and have to convince myself that it's not a heart attack. So, when I started to feel funny I slowed down and after a bit the rest of the group did too. Fortunately, my self-diagnosis of not having a heart attack once again turned out to be correct.
Boldt Castle

 Jen had called ahead to see if there was a place we could land kayaks and had been assured that there was. However, when we got there what we found was a steep ramp which would have been a tough landing even if it hadn't been blocked by a work boat, and a rather high dock. By working together to stabilize the kayaks we were all able to climb up out of the boats onto the dock and then haul up the kayaks. You come ashore into a no-man's land - on the island, but outside the castle perimeter. We paused there to have some lunch.

Landing at Boldt Castle (Rob's pic)

Next, we ran into the biggest challenge of paddling in this area - the fact that an international border runs through it. The rule is that you can cross the border as much as you want on water, but as soon as you set foot on land after crossing the border you have to check in with the appropriate border patrol agency. Heart Island is in the U.S. and there is a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol booth there to log in visitors coming from Canada in accordance with this rule. After finishing lunch we headed for the entry and dutifully logged in with CBP. The CBP officer gave us each a slip of paper with our U.S. entry number and a number to call upon our return to Canada. Suzanne and I, who are the ones to worry about such things, were concerned about what the re-entry check-in into Canada would entail (for example, would they expect us to physically visit an office outside of kayaking range?) so we decided to call the Canadian re-entry phone # right away. The Canadian officer on the other end of the line assured us that we could check in by phone upon our return.

Boldt Castle piano

We had a nice time visiting the castle and grounds. George Boldt made his fortune by pretty much inventing the luxury hotel business just in time for the robber baron era of the 19th century. He was, for example, the proprietor if the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. In a sense, he was like the Donald Trump of his era, creating properties that catered to the super-wealthy. However, unlike Trump he was a self-made man and no foe of immigrants, having worked his way up from kitchen staff when he was a new immigrant himself to millionaire hotelier. Also unlike The Donald, he didn't trade in his wives every few years. Rather, his wife Louise was his true love and it was for her that he was building the 120 room castle (he even renamed the island from "Hart" to "Heart" and incorporated a heart motif throughout the design as a show of his love for Louise). Tragically, Louise died before the house was completed, at which point George abandoned the whole project. So the castle today is not so much restored (as it was never finished or occupied) as it is an imagining of what it would have been like had it been completed.

At the end of the visit I indulged in a rare treat of ice cream (chest pain be damned - I was hungry and it was hot), then we got underway. For the trip back we had both current and wind helping us, and so, while we spent 3 1/2 hours outbound (including stops), it took us only two hours to get back.

The whole way back we were a little concerned about the customs issue (lots of jokes about how, like Tom Hanks in The Terminal, we were going to be stuck between two countries) and so upon our return to camp our first order of business was to call the Canadian Customs number. Jen called, and the person who answered took her name, asked the typical nonsensical questions ("How long is your kayak?") then - without taking anyone else's names - told her we were all checked in. This didn't sit well with us. We envisioned getting to the U.S. border at the end of our trip, showing up in their system as already having entered days earlier, and being sent to Guantanamo Bay. So, we called again. The person who answered was a little annoyed (since we had just called a minute earlier) and told us that the previous officer had been trying to do us a favor, but since we insisted on doing things by the book what we really needed to do was visit the Canadian Customs office at middle Grenadier. By this time it was around 6 PM. The office was open until 8, but there was no way were were going to get there and back by foot or by kayak, before dark. So, we thanked the latest Customs officer and decided we would take care of it the next morning upon our return to the Canadian mainland. Needless to say, we spent the rest of the evening joking about Canadian Customs SWAT teams swooping down onto the island in black helicopters to take us into custody. In retrospect, September 11th might not have been the best choice of days for cross-border shenanigans.

The bureaucratic headaches did not diminish our appetites. It was Suzanne's turn to make dinner (or maybe it was Jim's - Jim is not much of a cook and Suzanne had volunteered to take over his cooking night on top of doing her own) and we feasted on her tuna with olives pasta dish. It was an early night, as we had an early start planned for the morning. There was a marked warming trend in the weather and after having spent the preceding nights bundled up in my sleeping bag, Monday night I was borderline schvitzing in my tent.

Tuesday, 9/12

Usually on these trips we spread re-positioning over two days. Break camp and paddle back to the cars one day, spend a night ashore getting cleaned up, reprovisioning and repacking, then head out again the next morning. This time, because the distance between our two launch sites was fairly short, we decided to cram it all into one day. We knew it was going to be tight - even without the still to be determined process of checking back in with Customs. We had ascertained from the web that Misty Isles, our second launch point, was on the list of official Canadian check-in points (this turned out to be meaningless, as all they do is call the same phone number we already had) and so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and do our check-in there. To make a long story short, it took us over an hour and another seven or so phone calls to get officially checked in. The Customs agents wouldn't even allow us to pass the phone along from person to person; each of us had to call separately. Each of us got a different set of oddball questions ("Are you transporting any building materials?") and most of us received some degree of attitude from the Customs officers at the other end of the line (it turns out there are surly Canadians!). But eventually we all got "legal". And we provided much amusement for Gail, the (super-nice!) proprietress of Misty Isles.

Once we were done the group split up to take care of whatever else each of us needed to do. It was a mad dash, since we had only a few hours until our agreed-upon launch time for the paddle to our next campsite on Sugar Island. The people who hadn't cooked yet ran to the market to get food. We all refreshed our food and swapped out our dirty clothes for clean ones. I, for one, went in search of a shower. Most of the group had been either bathing in the river or using the solar shower; however, I am too genteel to consider a dip in cold, diesel-slick river water to be a bath and too delicate to subject myself to the tepid water of the solar shower, so my personal bathing on Grenadier had been limited to wipes. The first campground I visited turned me down (boo to the Ivy Lea KOA) but the second let me in, even declining my offer of payment (yay to the Ivy Lea Campground!). I took a luxurious hot shower, shaved, and also took the opportunity to wash out the cooler (we were concerned that the raw chicken had leaked). I bought fresh ice at the campground both because I needed ice and because I wanted to give them some business.

Our ashore time had been so busy that I hadn't had time to eat lunch. While time was getting tight, rather than just eat another of my camping lunches (tuna fish or peanut butter) I zipped back towards Gananoque with the intention of grabbing a quick lunch at the first restaurant I saw, which turned out to be McDonald's, so instead I grabbed a quick lunch at the second restaurant I saw - a chipotle chicken wrap at Tim Horton's. I was the last to arrive back at Misty Isles, but I still had almost an hour before our scheduled launch time and I had no problem packing the boat and being ready on time.

Ready to lunch at Misty Isles

The paddle out to Sugar Island was short and the water was calm and before we knew it our GPS receivers were beeping as we hit the waypoint I had set for the landing beach at Sugar Island. Sugar is a 35 acre private island owned by the American Canoe Association. Camping on the island is one of the perks of ACA memership. The island has minor improvements, including outhouses and really neat camping platforms perched right on the edges of the island. We had reserved two platforms but, since once again we had the place to ourselves (except for a caretaker who was there for the first few days) we wound up taking over five platforms: Jen and Suzanne each grabbed one to camp on, we took the nicest one as our central hangout and kitchen (it even had a kitchen area!), one for the solar shower and another one on which Tom and I hung our laundry. Another group of CPA paddlers had visited Sugar just weeks earlier. These folks for whatever reason like to maximize the amount of "roughing it" they do and so camped over on the rocky, buggy side of the island. Not us! We went for the sweet cushiness of the platforms.

Another luxury on Sugar is potable water. There's a hand pumped well and so we would take our water holders over in the (provided!) wheelbarrow and fill them up with water. Soooo much easier than filtering.

Camping platform on Sugar Island
View on Sugar Island

Our gourmet kitchen

It was Tom's turn to cook dinner - rough duty given all the work we had already put in over the course of the day; however, he was undeterred and prepared a marvelous meal: steaks and foil packets of mixed vegetables (corn, green beans, onions and potatoes) and turkey kielbasa. I've been neglecting to include mention of dessert in my descriptions of the meals, since mostly it was simple stuff like cookies. Tom, though, brought some sort of exotic Serbian dessert. 've already forgotten the name, but it was something he grew up eating - apparently some part of his family has Serbian roots. It was sort of a nut roll, sort of a babka. It was quite delicious! We spent the evening sitting on our "living room" platform staring at the water and the stars and marveling at our incredible good fortune at being in such a lovely place.

Sunset at Sugar Island

Wednesday, 9/13

After two busy days we agreed to a slow start on Wednesday. We started with a leisurely breakfast on the platform, watching an otter swim by and listening to the loons. We spent time on "camp craft". No, not lanyards. I had recently purchased a camping hammock and spent some time figuring out how to hang it up as well as relaxing in it. Rob and Tom set up the solar shower. Suzanne rigged a changing room out of tarps. Rob, Tom and I had all brought solar chargers for our electronics and so we deployed our solar farm (Rob travels with an amazing array of carabiners, bungie cords, spring clamps, and the like for such purposes). We each explored bits and pieces of the island on foot. In the afternoon we got on the water and did a six mile exploration of the Lake Fleet Islands - the local archipelago of which Sugar is a part. Lots of neat houses and scenery.

It was once again Suzanne's turn for dinner and this time she went pre-fab (this one must have been Jim's dinner!): Tastybite Indian Curry pouches with chicken. The curry had dairy in it and so Suzanne was good enough to set aside some for me before mixing in the chicken. I added some nuts and raisins, and had a nice meal of Indian sauce over rice. At this point, it should come as no surprise to readers that we spent the evening staring at the stars and the water. By this point in the trip it was pretty warm - we hadn't felt the need for a campfire (except for cooking) since arriving on Sugar.

Wednesday also marked the six month anniversary of my surgery. I had brought along a bottle of champagne from the U.S. (dutifully declared at the border) and we celebrated my survival and recovery with a champagne toast. It was very meaningful to me.

Toasting my heatlh!

Jen invited herself to stay over at my place, which was rather forward of her. Not to worry! She just wanted to try sleeping in my hammock. I slept in my tent; she spent the night in my "guest room".


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thousand Islands Part 2: Gananoque to Grenadier

Friday 9/8

One of the nice things about a trip like this is the planning and coordination up front. We're all experienced at this sort of trip and we all have a lot of gear, so there's a lot of good back and forth in the months and weeks leading up to the trip as we choose routes and campsites, decide who is going to bring what, and so forth. This year the planning phase was extra-special for me as much of it took place while I was recovering from surgery. Visualizing the trip and watching the details crystallize helped motivate me as I worked to get my strength back. Suzanne wisely suggested that I take on the job of figuring out places to paddle and so during my convalescence I scoured the available literature, pored over Google Earth, planned out plenty of paddling options, created a color-coded Google map with all our options, and created a file people could load into their GPS receivers with locations (waypoints) for all of our destinations. By the time I headed out from Newark I had lived this trip in my head for months and was excited about it finally becoming real.

A mere million hours after leaving New Jersey (or so it felt) I crossed the border into Canada and made my way to the small resort town of Gananoque. The first thing I did was to try to fiddle with the settings so that my car would display speed in km/hr. Normally it just shows MPH but, being a soft screen, it should be programmable. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to figure it out while driving. Fortunately, I know from running that 5 km is approximately equal to 3 miles, which was enough to allow me to convert between km/hr speed limits and MPH (it helps that speed limits are almost always multiples of five). I remembered as well that the Fibonacci sequence is a pretty good approximation of the relationship between miles and kilometers, which I used to double-check my math.

It's easy to spot your friends' cars when they're all loaded with kayaks. I noticed Jim's car in the lot of a liquor store, then pulled in next to Rob and Suzanne's cars in the lot of our motel. By the time I finished checking in Jim was at the hotel too. His phone didn't work in Canada so he had no way to communicate with the rest of the group. One of the few good things about T-Mobile is free international data and texting, so I had been able to ascertain that Rob, Tom and Suzanne had walked over into town for lunch. We caught up with them as they were leaving another liquor store - we do take our alcohol provisioning seriously. Carried along on a wave of group liquor purchasing, despite already having wine in my car I bought a bottle of bourbon - probably a year's supply at my normal rate of drinking. Jim accompanied me to the liquor store and bought more beer to augment what he had purchased earlier. Beer is generally not a good choice for kayaking - the cans are big and it gets shaken up. But, as I will explain, we were going to be "glamping" and so could be a little looser than usual with our packing standards.


Coordinating gear in Gananoque
"Glamping" is a portmanteau of "glamour" and "camping" and refers to luxury camping. Usually it refers to high luxury - for example, high thread count sheets on a Tempurpedic mattress in a yurt. In our case, we decided that since our two planned camping locations were on islands only a few miles off shore, weather permitting we* would tow Jen's ultra-light canoe filled with extra gear. This would allow us luxuries including a cooler, cushier sleep mats, and full size chairs. Still, we all had to be ready to do without the glamping gear in case conditions were such that we couldn't tow it. So we all arrived with chairs big and small, camping mats thin and thick, multiple stoves and so on. Later in the trip we joked about how we felt like we were having the poshest trip ever, despite the fact that by many standards we were pretty darn far from lux (after all, we were still using outhouses, sleeping on the ground, cooking our own food, bathing in the river, etc.).

Once Jen arrived, we went out to dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant in town, where I had a delicious serving of tuna. The remainder of the evening was spent with various preparations - coordinating and paring down the group gear from among multiple options, test-packing the glamping canoe, shopping for food at the local supermarket, packing the cooler, and so on.
Jen and Jim load the glamping gear


*"we" = Tom

Saturday 9/9

After taking advantage of the free breakfast at our hotel (including pocketing a few yogurts and things for later), we headed for the put-in at Mallorytown landing. I was so excited that I actually forgot to check out of the hotel. Fortunately, they billed me just for the one night; they aren't still charging me for the room. There we went through the usual ritual of packing the boats. I had taken the largest of my kayaks and still used a deck back to add more storage. In part that was because, knowing that we had only a short paddle and could load up the boats, I had brought along bulky canned goods for the dinner I was preparing. We had divvied up responsibilities in advance - each of us was responsible for one night's dinner, plus the last night we'd throw all our leftovers together for a potluck. I had drawn the first night.
Getting ready to launch at Mallorytown Landing

Towing the canoe to Grenadier
The trip out from Mallorytown to Grenadier was pretty easy. There was a little chop, but nothing that prevented us from taking the canoe. We quickly discovered that the canoe tended to hunt back and forth rather than going straight. We corrected this by having a kayaker follow behind, with the canoe tethered to the follower's bow by a slack rope. Even though the rope wasn't taut, it was enough to keep the canoe in line. Our destination was a campsite on Grenadier East. My Grenadier campsite waypoint was spot on, putting us right into the cove by our campsite. Based on write-ups we'd read we had been afraid that we would have to land far from the campsite and haul our gear a long distance, but the campsite area had a small dock and some flat rocks to land on, so we were fine.

The dock at Grenadier East (Rob's photo)
The site itself was quite beautiful. There were three campsites all together, and in addition a day use area with a pavilion and a fire ring. Plus a composting toilet (less stinky than a basic pit toilet, and well maintained - toilet paper and all! - by the Canadian park service). The place was empty (the joy of traveling after Labor Day) and so we spread out over all three campsites (we had reserved two, and paid on-site for the third, which was available only first-come, first-served) plus the day use area. The whole setting was quite lovely and, as far as we could tell, we had the east end of Grenadier Island all to ourselves. The only real reminder of civilization was the fact that we were not far from the main shipping channel. The St. Lawrence is a major shipping route and every once in a while a large cargo ship (these are ships ranging from 400 to 800 feet long - not large by supertanker standards, but pretty darn big from a kayaker's perpective!) would lumber by. By the way, if you are a boat nerd you can watch the St. Lawrence boat traffic on AIS at http://ais.boatnerd.com/.

Freighter on the river
The good thing about making dinner the first night is that there's nothing else to compare yours to. The bad thing is that, having just come from ashore, people haven't yet developed that "I'll eat anything, even if it's been dropped in the dirt" camping hunger. Fortunately, my whole wheat gnocchi with white beans and spinach was a success - it was appealing even to the non-ravenous.

Having had a long day, after dinner we built a fire and relaxed. It was a clear and chilly night. This gave us a beautiful view of the night sky, and we hung around the fire until it just got too darn cold at which point we all crawled into our tents for the night. The temperature went down into the 40's overnight, but I was sufficiently bundled up, stayed toasty warm and slept well.

Sunday 9/10

A number of the people in the group had crossed paths in the past with an Ottawa-based kayaker named Alf. We had let Alf know that we were going to be in his general area and he said he'd come out and paddle with us on Sunday. In order to get to us Alf had to drive the 2 hours from Ottawa to Mallorytown Landing then paddle from Mallorytown to Grenadier Island, and so we knew we were going to have time for a leisurely start to the day while we awaited his arrival. It was late morning when we got on the water.

Our goal for the day was not overly ambitious. The region is home to a number of palatial houses built by nineteenth century industrialists. We started our trip by paddling to Singer Castle, located on an island just a few miles from our campsite. Singer was built by Frederick Bourne, who was the president of the Singer sewing machine company in the late 1800's. We circumnavigated the island but did not go ashore. While the castle is open to visitors, there was no landing place suitable for kayaks. Also, the island is on the American side of the river. We had launched from Canada and knew that setting foot on American soil would trigger immigration reporting requirements, a fact which would come back to bite us at our later visit to Boldt Castle.
Lunch break at Brown's Bay

After gawking at the castle we paddled back to the Canadian side and landed at a park at Brown's Bay. This provided a pleasant place for lunch. From there we followed the coast back down to Mallorytown landing, where Jen had to make a stop to pick up some papers. There is some sort of reciprocity between her museum and Boldt Castle which was going to provide us all with free admission to the castle when we visited. After the quick stop at Mallorytown we headed back for the campsite.

It was Rob's turn to make dinner. Rob is known for complex - and delicious - dinners, and this one was no exception. Rosemary chicken grilled in the fire ring, plus brussels sprouts, potatoes and other vegetables cooked on the stove. Alf stayed for dinner, and we all hung out and had a nice meal. He departed when he had just enough light left to get back. It was nice meeting him after hearing his name over the years. I look forward to seeing the pictures he took - he was traveling with a high end camera (well, Micro 4/3) with a honking big lens.
Rob's chicken  on the grill

Tom helps with the vegetables

Hanging with Alf
Oh, and lest I forget, he brought us bottle of a delicious chocolate bourbon liquor, which we drank to the last drop - as I already described, we were short on alcohol ;).

Then, it was a repeat of the previous night - sit by the fire watching the stars until it got cold enough that we all retreated to our tents. But there was a difference - there was a thief afoot. As we sat by the fire I kept thinking I heard something over in the pavilion. I would turn my head but never saw anything. Finally, with my headlamp on I looked over towards the dock and saw the reflection of four little eyes. We went over to the dock and caught a glimpse of two small raccoons rummaging around our boats. And then Jen realized that her food bag, which she had left on the table, was missing. It was gone - never to be seen again. We figure that the two raccoons we saw by the dock were juveniles and that momma raccoon had sneaked over to the picnic table and made off with Jen's food. Fortunately, that wasn't all of Jen's food and we had plenty of extra food, so she didn't starve (no one is even in danger of starving on these trips!). And somewhere on Grenadier Island there are raccoons who are now spoiled from eating homemade granola and lots of other goodies.

Thousand Islands Part 1: The trip before the trip

My brother and sister-in-law have been working for years on a a show - his music, her script. After many years of working to get all the pieces in place they finally got a production in New York. Needless to say, the dates of the limited run overlaid the dates of my Thousand Islands trip, meaning the only way I was going to get to see it was on the way either to or from the trip. So, the day before I would otherwise have left for the kayak trip I managed to cram all my gear, plus Ted and David, into my car and head north. I had made reservations at a hotel in Newark, NJ - which had parking for oversize vehicles (I had a kayak on the roof of my car), easy access to Manhattan via the PATH train, and was on the right side of the city for a quick getaway the following morning. The oversize parking turned out to be at a lot a block away. With some trepidation I left my car with my week's worth of camping and kayaking gear under the care of the skells working there and the boys and I headed into Manhattan. The PATH train stop in Newark is everything you'd expect of a New York area train station - grimy, smelly, and crowded, but the Manhattan transportation hub at the new World Trade Center looks like something from a sci-fi movie set. Gleaming white, with a large arched hall that looks like you're walking through the skeleton of a futuristic robotic whale, it's quite a sight.

Pizza in Tribeca
 After finding our way out of the whale we proceeded to walk uptown towards Greenwich Village. It was a work day, so Tribeca was thrumming with people. We window-shopped our way through Soho (I think the only shop we actually went into was Fjallraven). By this time it was after 4 PM and we were on our way to dinner, but we hadn't stopped for lunch on the way up and so we ducked into a pizza place for a quick slice. Soho gave way to the gentrified grittiness of the East Village. We paused at Cooper Union to spin the Alamo cube. Then we headed east and met Henry and Cailin at Veselka, a Ukranian restaurant - a favorite haunt of mine from my Village days. The boys have taken a liking to it as well because of their excellent pierogi.

Spinning The Alamo
The show itself was quite good. I mean, it's the first time it's been given a full production so it had some rough edges to be refined, but overall we all enjoyed it. After the show we took the subway back downtown and then the PATH back to New Jersey. We shared our PATH car with a deranged fellow. He was openly bleeding from his one flip-flop clad foot. We couldn't see the condition of his other foot since he was wearing a McDonald's wrapper as footwear. His sweatpants were sagging so far down that his entire butt was exposed, and he was pacing back and forth in an agitated fashion through the train car. It's sad to see someone in that condition, but I will say that riding mass transit with at least one scary fellow passenger is an essential part of the New York experience.

Nice parking space!
Friday morning, when I went to retrieve my car I found it up in the air. The parking lot, in order to increase the number of available spots, parks cars two high and mine was up on a top deck. With the kayak on it, it was quite a sight. The parking lot attendant grudgingly agreed to move the three cars blocking mine in, pulled mine out - and I was on my way!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Summer Goes Out With A Bang

So, I played a nice festival called Not Fade Away last weekend. As one might expect from the name, it was a festival of Buddy Holly aficionados.

Just kidding.

The name is a Grateful Dead reference (according to Wikipedia, the Dead performed the song 532 times) and the festival was suitably hippie dippie. VW buses and Vanagons as far as the eye could see! A lot of Dead and Dead-inspired music, jam band music, and one Classic Funk Band.

That would be us - Magnolia Blue.
Here I am Onstage

We performed with a couple of extra horns - five pieces in all - which was cool. Unfortunately, we're without a female singer right now and with Shade having left the band, Cornelius has to shoulder all the singing. He's a great front man, but that's a lot of singing for his pipes. Fortunately, we were able to compensate by throwing in a number of instrumentals (or near instrumentals).

During our set, apparently there was a scuffle between someone (we think he had wandered over from the more rave-oriented stage at the other end of the property) and security. The guy drew a gun and tried to fire at one of the security guards. Fortunately the gun jammed (though others say they heard it go off - the story isn't clear). This all happened just feet away from me off to the side of the stage; however, I was totally unaware of it until later on, as it was behind my back. Pretty scary to think that after all I've been through this year, I could have been shot! Check out the news coverage here. Check out a video from our performance here.

What's interesting is that while this was a public festival, it seemed to draw mostly a sort of extended family of festival-goers, many of whom know each other. As I play more of these shows I'm starting to get to know some of them too. It's pretty cool - this crew seems to spend its summer camping from one festival to another. Not a bad way to spend some summer weekends!

Anyway, other than the gun battle it was a wonderful, mellow scene. Great "green room" for the bands. Beautiful, sunny weather. After the show I popped open a beer (Lost Rhino Faceplant IPA, in case you want to know), and settled into my chair to hang out - and saw some excellent bands. I had a very nice time.

Backstage

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

MAMILs are an international plague.

This, from the Daily Mail (in the UK). The article is spot on. The only thing about it which makes me sad is that the "middle-aged" people pictured in it look to be fifteen years younger than I am. If they're middle-aged, what does that make me??

Please Don't Answer.

Speaking of old men riding, last weekend my sixty-something friend Chris and I did a nice loop between Cape Henlopen State Park and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. He initially dressed in full MAMIL regalia - loud orange jersey, matching socks, and black Lycra shorts. When he saw that I was dressed in baggy bikes shorts and a regular t-shirt he ran back into his bedroom and changed out of the orange jersey and socks. A small victory for the normally-clothed! Chris did admit that he feels a little self-conscious about the way his belly looks when he wears tight-fitting jerseys. Truth be told, he's in really good shape for a guy in his mid-sixties and has nothing to worry about - particularly in comparison to a lot of other MAMILs I've seen out on the road.

Chris is also an all-out roadie. When I bought my gravel bike, with its wide, grippy tires, he gave me a hard time about how slow I was going to be for road rides. So when I went to visit him this weekend I made sure to show up with skinny roadie tires on my bike. And then he grabbed his fat tire hybrid and took me on a route made up primarily of packed gravel trails. 😒

Here's the Strava of the ride.