Sunday, December 28, 2008

Great Falls


It's an unbelievably warm December day - the temperature is already above sixty when I go out to retrieve the morning paper. I just gotta get outside and enjoy this warm, if gray and windy, weather. The family is still asleep. I decide to take a quick jaunt over to Great Falls park and hike Mather Gorge. Great Falls is an amazing resource just minutes (assuming it's not rush hour) from home.

I get to the park about 8 AM. Not too many people about - just some birders. Unfortunately, the parking booth is manned. Is it really worth it to pay a ranger to sit there and collect five bucks from each car?

I first visit the three Falls overlooks near the visitors center. They've been redone since the last time I visited. Two of them are now handicapped accessible, and all three have expanded guardrail systems. It used to amaze me how open the overlooks were - it would have been very easy to slip off the rocks and plunge down into the gorge. Much too uncontrolled for the developed section of a nearly-urban National Park. Now, with the expanded railings, you'd really have to be determined to fall off at the overlooks. After gawking for a little while I headed down the River Trail, which runs along Mather Gorge. This trail too has been renovated. It's better blazed and easier to follow than it used to be. The trail still has gorgeous views, and, thankfully, no new safety railings.

One reason I chose this locale is I'm scouting locations for Jewish-themed hikes (inspired by some books I've been reading lately) I intend to lead for the temple in the Spring. So I pay close attention to how difficult the trail would be for a group, and I pause between Sandy Landing and Cow Hoof Rock to try out some Mindfulness exercises I intend to use on the hike. Unfortunately, at this location you're only a half mile from the road, and so my focus on the sounds around me was dominated by ambulance sirens along Georgetown Pike. After pausing for a while to take in the Mather Gorge view I continued on to where the River Trail meets the Ridge Trail, then hoofed it back up the Matildaville Trail back to the visitors center. About 3.75 miles, all told.

As I got into the car my phone rang - it was V, calling to see where I was. Perfect timing. She and the boys were heading over to the bagel store and wanted to know if I'd be interested in meeting them. I pointed the car that-a-way and we met up for brunch.

As I was leaving the park, the portion of Georgetown Pike to my right was completely closed off and there were police cars a-plenty about. Could this have been related to the sirens I had heard before during my attempt at mindfulness?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Kooky Hike at Torrey Pines


Today is the last day of my San Diego trip and as it happened, both my schedule and the weather cleared in time for me to spend some time outside before heading to the airport. I checked out of the hotel a little before noon and decided to try walking over to Torrey Pines State Preserve, which seemed pretty close by. I started off by hiking along a path from the hotel that paralleled the ocean. It turned out that this path was actually part of the Torrey Pines golf course and that pedestrian traffic is not permitted on the course. I was chased down by not one but two golf carts - a supply cart that blocked the path in front of me while the Course Marshal caught up from behind and cordially ejected me from the property.

I continued by walking along Torrey Pines Road to the entrance to the state preserve, a little less than a mile in total. From there I headed straight down the Broken Hill path, which looked like it would head to the beach. I hiked at Torrey Pines when I visited my friend Kris back in the 80's, and I had the same reaction then as now - except for the ocean views, the place kind of sucks. I guess I'm just not attuned to the desert beauty of sage scrub ecosystems. Lots of low scrubby plants. Few trees to speak of. They've made it feel very uninviting too. I know the park service is just trying to protect a fragile ecosytem, but the sheer number of negative signs - "No picnicing!" "No trails!" "Trail Closed" "Plant renewal area - keep out" is a little off-putting.

The other thing about Torrey Pines is that it's made up of a bunch of canyons and peninsulas, so you can't really go from one trail to another. When I got to the end of the Broken Hill trail, which ends abruptly at a, well, broken hill, I had to turn around and hike back about half-way before I could hook up to another trail. I must say, though, that the view at Broken Hill was quite stunning. And I love the smell of the place, which I remembered from my 1980's trip.

After hiking a few trails I decided it was time to find my way out of the place. Because I had been working my way North through the park I decided to work my way out from where I was rather than backtrack. Bad idea. I finally made it to a park exit, but found myself several miles north of where I entered the park. So, my walk back to the hotel covered the orginal couple of miles plus two more miles, which had to be covered on the bike path adjoining a highway. Not fun.

As usual, I was looking to geocache a little bit a part of my hike but this too was a failure. The preceding days had been unusually rainy (I mean real, heavy rain) and so a number of trails were closed. I got about 100 feet away from one cache, but was stopped by one of the strident "Fragile Area! Do not Enter!" signs from getting any closed. I spent quite a few hours at the park, but wound up with only one geocache find.

All I had had to eat all day was a granola bar and some coffee, and I had worked out in the gym before my morning meeting, so by the time I got back to the hotel I was pretty tired and hungry. I hopped in the car and headed to La Jolla where I devoured a Banzai Vegetarian Burrito at Wahoo's Fish Taco.

Was the hike a success? Yes. No. Maybe. New vistas are always good. Hiking during the business day is always good. 60 degree weather in December is good. Sandy trails through sage scrub ... well, it beats working.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Kayaking Mission Bay


I flew into San Diego Tuesday morning so I could be there for pre-meetings for my Wednesday meeting, but it turned out the pre-meetings got cancelled. Sooo, I headed straight from the airport to Aqua Adventures in Mission Bay so I could get some paddling in. Aqua Adventures is owned by Jen Kleck, the only BCU 5 Star Coach (this is a high level kayaking certification) in America, so I wasn't surprised to find that her rental fleet included not just the usual trashy rec boats but also some real sea kayaks. She even had a Greenland paddle as part of her rental gear. I've never seen that before!

Jen and I chatted for a little while - long enough for her to ascertain that I wasn't a complete kayaking moron, so she recommended a loop around Fiesta Island - essentially going all the way around Mission Bay. She also recommended poking out into the Pacific, but I opted not to do this since I was by myself, jet-lagged, and had heard enough swept-out-to-sea stories to be wary. There was some residual wind from the previous day's weather and I had no desire to become a statistic.

I selected a Seda Ikkuma to paddle, which turned out to be a pretty sweet kayak. We don't see many Seda boats on the East Coast. The company is based in San Diego and doesn't really have national distribution. You see some people racing Seda Gliders, but that's about it. A nice boat!!! Maneuverable almost like the Romany, but longer and with less rocker - and more chine - so it's faster. It's lower volume and so less barge-like than myTempest 170. According to the manufactueres' web sites the Tempest 165 is actually lover volume and lower decked than the Ikkuma, but it sure doesn't feel that way.

I launched and headed up out of Quivera Basin. Oh, wait! I had my first cool experience before I even left the basin. There were a couple of harbor seals lounging around on a dock. We don't see marine mammals in Northern Virginia, so I found this super cool. Once out of the basin I headed over to Sea World. This was my only disappointment of the outing. When I paddled here years ago, you were able to paddle up and see the penguins in their "offstage" area. They were incredibly cute, if pretty stinky. Apparently they've reconfigured the park, so no penguin sightings this trip.

I continued up the east side of the bay, through the PWC area which was happily completely devoid of Personal Watercraft. In fact, being a December weekday, the whole bay was pretty empty. I saw a couple of boats out, but not many. The loop around Fiesta Island included one portage - you have to get out and carry the kayak over the Fiesta Island Causeway. This was a little dicey, thanks both to the sandy, rocky terrain and having to carry a kayak across a somewhat busy road, but no worries. I made a scouting trip with my paddle and then made a second trip with the kayak. Once I got back into the boat, since I was in a shallow, protected area, I experimented with some braces and edging to get a better feel for the Ikkuma's handling. Quite sweet. I also too the opportunity, since I was out of the boat, to take off my paddling jacket. It was too warm for two layers! That's a great statement to be able to make in December - back home I'm like the kayaking Michelin Man this time of year - dry suit over about a bazillion layers.

After I finished messing around I continued up to the top of the island, rounded the northernmost point and started to head back around the west side of the island. As Jen had promised, the SeaWorld tower and a tall hotel were easily visible landmarks to guide me along.

I had my GPS with me and was really impressing myself with the speeds I was achieving - up to 6 MPH. "Boy, this Ikkuma is a fast boat," I thought. Eventually I realized I was paddling with a strong ebb tide and that about 20% of my speed was due to tide, not paddler. I made one more stop along the way back to do a little more bracing practice/experimentation. Again, being by myself in an unfamiliar boat in somewhat chilly water I didn't roll. Final mileage, 7.45 statute miles. A nice jaunt.

Back at the hotel I cleaned up and went out for dinner. The combination of jet lag and paddling made me too tired to go out looking for a restuarant so I ate at the hotel, something I rarely do. Well, actually I ate at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, the gorgeous upsale property next door to my hotel. I had some good grilled zucchini and mushroom/truffle oil soup, and mind-blowingly delicious Brook Trout. I was so hungry I devoured the whole meal, plus the complementary home-made potato chips, plus a couple of rolls. I was hungry enough to eat the table linen too but controlled myself. I then proceeded to fail to find the shortcut link between the Hilton and The Lodge, so wound up taking the long way back around the street side.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Death by Exercise

Today I really decided to punish myself with exercise and as a result right now I feel like I'm going to drop.

First of all, I have started using the Concept2 online logbook. This tool allows you to log and track your Concept2 erg (rowing machine, for the uninitiated) workouts online. Pretty cool. But wait - it's also got a ranking feature, which allows you to see how you compare with other rowers. Now, I am not naturally competitive at sports. I've never played team sports, and despite my friends Cyndi and Brian's best attempts to entice me, I've never had any interest in kayak racing. But one click ranking without direct competition, hmmm ... that I could see. So first thing this morning I did a balls to the wall 6000 meter row (actually I kept going beyond that because I like to row for at least 30 minutes, but I only ranked the 6KM piece). I can't say I was very happy with my results - not even in the top half for my age/weight group, but I feel good that I was able to post a not-outta-the-running time. OK, so that was a workout. Then I went about my day, which was unusually busy.

At the end of the day I happened to have a little open time, so I took the opportunity to try something that's intrigued me for a long time - Bikram Yoga. Bikram, commonly known as "Hot Yoga", is practiced in a very hot room. That's all I knew about it.

Well, let me say, it's an experience. First of all, the studio in Falls Church is upstairs in a rundown strip mall. I haven't seen been in a building this schlocky since my grandmother, who lived in a pre-WWII building in Boro Park, died. Y'know, the kind of place that's been painted so many times that the corners are no longer sharp, and let still simultaneously looks like it hasn't been painted in years. Once you get inside, the studio itself is OK, though. No worries.

So I go in and sign up for a single class. You do Bikram wearing as little clothing as possible because of the heat, so I went and changed into a bathing suit. I entered the studio room and was immediately hit by the heat (about 110 degrees) and the smell (the remnants of thousands of people schvitzing in extreme heat). Hoo boy, I wasn't sure I was going to last until the beginning of class, let alone the end. The class included about a dozen students of varying levels of abilities, all dressed more for the beach than for any typical exercise class.

The style of the class was as much of a shock as the temperature. Most yoga classes are slow and relaxed. Bikram is the exact opposite - highly structured, very fast paced, and apparently IDENTICAL every time. The same 26 asana done in the same order, even with the same instructions. Imagine a yoga class taught by Marine drill sergeant in the middle of a desert in the summer, and you've about got it. Maybe this is how the Roman legions kept in shape while the besieged Masada. I mean, the instructor was supportive and I never felt pressured to do more than I could, but relaxation this was not! I did feel a little woozy at one point but pushed on.

At the end of class I staggered out into an unusually warm December night, wishing it was about 30 degrees cooler out - which is very unlike me (I'm always cold). I downed one complete water bottle during class, a second right after class, then had to stop off and get a soda to survive the 5 minute trip home. The teacher told me (with enthusiasm) that tomorrow I'd feel aches and pains in parts of my body I didn't even know I had. He then encouraged me to come back tomorrow, since it's good to keep going while you're still in a world of hot yoga hurt. Fortunately for my soon to be aching body, I have an all day meeting tomorrow followed by a reception (I'll be punishing my body with canapes) and so there will be no Bikram for me for a while.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fifth Overall


Today's joke was that if someone asked me how I did in this morning's 5K, I was going to respond that I was fifth overall. Of course, with a pace that was roughly half that of the fastest runners, I didn't really finish the race anywhere near fifth overall. I did, however, have bib number 5, and so my answer, while disingenuous, would have technically been correct. I really was fifth overall - to register, that is. My bib number last year was 1024, a good number for geeks, as it's a power of 2, but there's also something cool about a really low number.

This was my second year in a row running the Clarendon Turkey Trot 5K. The race is a benefit for two local charities and is run early Thanksgiving morning. My two experiences with the race were somewhat different. I don't run many organized races and so last year I didn't really know what to expect, while this year I knew the details and even all the turns (all 15 of them!). Last year I had been running pretty regularly and so felt well prepared for a 5 K; this year I've been doing a lot more rowing than running. Last year the weather was warm; this year it was cold (in the 20's when I left the house). Last year I started off the race with my friend Linda (a marathoner - I'm proud to have finished only a minute behind her), while this year I ran on my own. I did see Linda from a distance today during the race (she's easy to spot, as she runs the race every year wearing a pilgrim hat) and she and I bumped into each other at the end. I think I finished ahead of her teenage son, though - ha! Lazy teenagers. I also saw my neighbor Pancho there. Pancho's a fast runner. I'm sure he turned in a good time.

The cold weather was a little bit of a challenge for me. I'm picky about being dressed right for running. I hate being cold, but being too hot really affects my performance. Normally I dress so that I'll be a little chilly out the door, figuring I'll warm up as I run. Today, though, I knew that I'd be standing around for a while before and after the race and so I threw on an extra layer. The layering worked out well - I was able to keep at the right temperature the whole time.

Warming up before the run was different than my usual routine too. I did some stretching at home, then drove to the race (just a few miles from home). I got there about 15 minutes before start time, so I did some dynamic stretching there. Dynamic stretching is pretty strange looking - funny backwards walking, crwaling around like Spiderman, and the like, and so I got some interesting looks.

This year's Turkey Trot drew over 1,500 participants. That's good for the charities the race supports, but unfortunately the race is outgrowing its course, which runs through the narrow streets of Arlington's Lyon Park neighborhood and has, as I have already mentioned, a lot of turns. At the start and at a few other points during the race the crowd was clumped up enough that I had to walk rather than run. For a lot of the race you just had to follow the pace of the people in front of you, as there was no way to pass. The course gets even further clogged by people running with dogs and baby joggers. Between the challenges of the course and doing less running, I know I turned in a slower time than last year. The timer read 32:25 as I crossed the finish line, but I started way back in the pack, so my time is really a little shorter (official results haven't been posted yet). Last year I clocked in at 30:16, so even with some adjustment this definitely was a slower race for me than last year.

The race has a water station at the halfway point, which makes me chuckle a little - most people can make it through a 5K in late Autumn without a water break. What makes me chuckle even more is the house along the route that sets up a beer station - complete with people holding cans of Budweiser out for runners to grab as they go by. A cute touch.

Speaking of refreshments, the race ends at Lyon Park, where there was water, coffee, fruit and pastries - and door prizes (along with the winers' prizes). Alas, I didn't win anything. I availed myself of the refreshments then headed home in time to catch most of the Macy's parade on TV. After I rested and changed I got to work helping Valerie prepare the Thanksgiving meal. A great way to start Thanksgiving day.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Birthday Paddling

I always like the idea of doing something outdoors for my birthday. Unfortunately, my birthday falls in late November and so the weather is usually not particularly accommodating for outdoor celebrations - no pool parties for me. Today's outdoor birthday plan was to help our friends at Jack's boathouse move their docks downriver for the winter, then paddle back. The plan to move the docks got postponed, but I suggested going out kayaking this afternoon anyway. It seemed like a grand idea ... until I tasted the weather. It was pretty cold, and quite windy - prediction of gusts up to 30 MPH. I started to back out of the whole kayaking idea, but I couldn't reach my friends by phone or email, so I figured I'd better go down to the launch point and at least tell them I wasn't going. And just in case the weather seemed better than forecast, I figured it would be prudent to bring along the kayak. I tossed the Tempest on the car and off I went.

I arrived at Columbia Island marina to find Dave & Cyndi already getting changed to go out on the water, with their boats offloaded from the car. I expressed my doubts about paddling in today's conditions, but honestly the water didn't look too bad and they twisted my arm a little bit. Sooo ... the kayak came off the car, the winter gear went on and off we went.

As soon as we launched, before we were even out of the marina, we spotted a bald eagle. A cool way to start the trip. It was a pretty nice trip for wildlife. We saw herons, buffleheads, Canada geese, and even some deer on Roosevelt Island. Mind you, this is all within urban Washington, DC.

The wind was kind of fierce as we paddled up river, but the fetch of the Potomac isn't very long, so the waves were never more than a foot - and were in fact much less for most of the trip. It was, however, serious work paddling up into the wind - at least for me. A couple of gusts were strong enough that I could feel my paddle being lifted up - something I hadn't felt even on the windy Galesville trip a few weeks ago. Sustained winds at that speed could have ripped it out of my hands.

We paddled up as far as Three Sisters Islands before turning around. I'm not sure if the wind died off as we paddled back, or whether it was just that you notice the wind less when it's at your back, but it certainly seemed calmer on the way back - and a quicker ride too, having the remaining wind and the current with, rather than against us.

When we got back, Dave and Cyndi had birthday cupcakes for me! The wind made it impossible to light the candle they had brought, but we each quickly downed a cupcake (once we got off the river and got out of our paddling gear, we started to feel cold pretty quickly) and then all headed for home.

The thing that's most unpleasant for me paddling in the winter is cold hands. I have gone through several sets of gloves over the years, but none ever seems warm enough. Today I borrowed a set of pogies (mitten-like things that attach to the paddle). While pogies are not really perfectly suited to the Greenland style paddle, my hands were warm as could be. I may have to get a pair ...

One thing I can't figure out. The temperature was above freezing the whole time we were out. The thermometer in the car read 36 degrees, a value confirmed by the weather report on the radio. So, how is it that the river water froze onto my kayak as soon as I had it out of the water. Strange.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fall Foliage kayak trip

Way, way back in January my friend Tom and I put a Fall Foliage trip on the Chesapeake Paddler’s Association calendar. We set it up so long ago that we kinda forgot about it until just a few weeks ago. I did a quick update to the listing to say more than the “check back later for details” that had been there since January. We both fielded some calls. Then Tom headed out on a succession of business trips. With this smooth and thorough level of preparation, it’s completely surprising that we got only a small turnout. We got one last minute dropout, so the group turned out to be only five people.


We had judged the weather, if not the foliage, just right. It was a glorious day. I brought along my dry suit – normal gear for mid-November – but given that it was pushing up near 70 degrees, and that we were paddling a totally calm reservoir, I opted for lighter gear. Good choice – in the dry suit I would have been safe from hypothermia, but would probably have succumbed to heat stroke instead. As to the leaves, we were probably one weekend past peak. The trees were still colorful, though the drive down was actually prettier than the view along the reservoir itself. You know what was a beautiful foliage day? Election Day. Maybe it was just that I was in such a good mood anyway, but that really seemed to be a peak day, at least in Arlington.


We launched at about 9:20 AM and- paddled from Fountainhead up towards Bull Run Marina. As we approached Bull Run we saw a chaotic cluster of rowing shells. Imagine the battle of Trafalgar being reenacted in slow motion by high school students in 8 oar shells, and you’ve about got the picture. It turns out it was the first day of crew practice for a local high school and the coaches had the kids out on the water learning the basics. The kids had very little boat control or coordination but a lot of enthusiasm. Nobody swam, but it was a far cry from the powerful, well-tuned college teams we see in Georgetown.


After a quick break at Bull Run we headed back towards Fountainhead. I borrowed my friend Cyndi’s wing paddle for a while. Wing paddles, which were developed for racing, has a really peculiar feel - totally different from Greenland or Euro paddles. They require a totally different stroke. I’m not sure I’d want to use one on a regular basis, but I’ll tell you – when you execute a stroke just right it puts out a lot of power! I’m thinking that in the Spring I may borrow one for a while to play with.


The total trip was 10.5 miles. This wasn’t a stretch for four of us. Our fifth paddler, while pretty experienced, had never gone over five miles on a single outing before, and so doubled her max trip length! Good for her. She was slowing down at the end, though – I’m betting she consumed some serious amounts of Advil later in the day.


Once we got off the water Tom left quickly. He had gotten back the night before from a business trip to Barbados (the poor dear) and wanted to get home to unpack and unwind. Joan headed out too. Dave, Cyndi and I toyed with the idea of going out for lunch, but ultimately all admitted to each other that we were watching our pennies. Valerie and I already had plans to go out with friends for dinner, so I was just as happy to forego the socializing and keep a few extra shekels in my pocket.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Early Morning November Run

Having signed up yesterday for a Thanksgiving 5K run, I figured I should go out and try and run that distance. Over the past year I have my emphasis to other forms of exercise, so now running is just an occasional thing.

The neighborhood has a lingering aroma of Halloween. The cool morning air is punctuated with the smell of burnt pumpkin, emanating from the hundreds of jack-o-lanterns left over from last night's Halloween festivities. The air is just cool enough to make my breath visible, and the sky is clear and blue.

As I hit the trail I break into my usual leisurely running pace. I'm used to being passed not only by stronger athletes but also by toddlers taking their first steps, three-legged dogs, and, in the Springtime, energetic caterpillars. But I plug along.

Soon I come up on Ralph the Dentist. He's a walker and so is much slower than I am - I like that. He's ready with his usual gruff, gregarious "Good morning!" I don't know if Ralph is actually a dentist. In fact, I don't even know if his name is Ralph. I've never spoken with the man except to exchange greetings on the trail. His name and occupation were supplied to me by another of the W&OD trail regulars. I also saw Andi the Gazelle. I have actually spoken with Andi once - we met at a party hosted by a former CIA analyst (true!). I call her "the Gazelle" because she has a very fluid running style, as if gravity affects her a little bit less than it does the rest of us.

As I ran I also noticed the seasonal changes - leaves turning brown, Virginia Creeper dying back, and so on.

The run went without a hitch, as I expected it would. As usual, near the end I started bargaining with myself as to where to finish up. It's a fairly steep uphill climb from the trail to my house, some of which I do at a walking pace as a cool down. The variable is where to transition from running to walking. There's the bridge to the trail, the spot where I get to the sidewalk, the first and second cross streets. The lazy part of me always argues for the shortest run - just to the bridge. Today I overcame that lazy voice and ran as far as the first cross street - my usual compromise stopping part. A successful 5K - I didn't time it, though.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pirates of Georgetown Halloween


I'm trying to figure out what year the Pirates of Georgetown Halloween party tradition started. The earliest pictures I have are from 2003, but I have fuzzy memories that it may have started a year or two earlier. In any case, it has become an annual tradition which attracts kayakers not just from the Georgetown group but from the entire Chesapeake Paddlers Association. The party is always bittersweet - as fun as it is to hit the water in costume, it also marks the end of the club-sanctioned Thursday evening paddling season. There are people at the party who I won't see again until April. Without question it marks the end of languid evenings by the river. Soon the staff at Jack's will tow the docks away for the year, leaving only the small winter dock. Those of us who go out over the Winter are facing the cold months ahead - months of freezing hands and uncomfortable dry suits.

But for tonight, all is well. There are rubber duckies floating in a pool of duck blood (which turns out to be red wine). There's pizza, veggies, snack foods and there are desserts galore. I stay away from the giant cupcakes but hopelessly overdo it on someones home-baked oatmeal raisin cookies. I stick to Diet Coke as my beverage, so my only buzz is from sugar.

Before I know it, hours have passed and it's time to hit the road. The gravel crunches under the wheels as I pull out of the parking lot. I know I'll keep seeing some of the gang - on the water, at the pool, in the neighborhood - but I'll be watching the NOAA water temperature web page, waiting for the Potomac to once again warm up as Spring approaches.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hemlock Park with Ted

Ted and I took advantage of a beautiful Autumn day to take a geocaching hike in Hemlock Overlook regional park. Hemlock is the only one I had never visited of the chain of parks along the Occoquon River. That's because its primary use is as an outdoor eduction facility (jointly run by the parks authority and a local university). It turns out that in addition to that stuff there are hiking trails that are open to the public. So we headed out to do some hiking and find some geocaches.

One thing about caching is that it can take you far off the trail and get you pretty completely spun around. Even with two GPS receivers in hand, after two caches we had no idea of where the trail was anymore, but we quasi-backtracked and eventually found ourselves on a trail that led down to and along the banks of the river. It rained like crazy yesterday and so the trails, while not muddy, were a little slippery. Ted, as usual, was hiking in Crocs and had no problems negotiating the trail (he was also channeling some strange teenage Rambo vibe, with a camo bandanna, neck shade, etc.). I, wearing low hikers, came pretty close to sliding down into the river on one steep section of trail.

Yesterday's rain was a welcome anomaly. It's been a pretty dry Fall, which has the unfortunate impact of lessening the intensity of the Fall colors. It was still pretty amazing out in the woods, though. This time of year is pretty striking around here.

Alas, eventually we had to head for home. The economy being what it is we decided to forgo the burgers which beckoned to us from Fuddruckers. Instead we just grabbed a couple of Diet Cokes from the trunk of the car (a good deal at Target, but I keep forgetting to bring them into the house) and headed home.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Last Full paddle of the regular Pirates season

One of the things I love about kayaking is the feel of the seasons changing. Unfortunately, in Fall this also means the end of the officially sanctioned weekly paddling groups (there are people who go out all Winter, but those people are crazy - that reminds me, I have to dig out my Winter paddling gloves). The "Pirates of Georgetown" group's season always ends with a Halloween party on the docks, including paddling in costume along the Georgetown waterfront. A hearty potluck beckons back at the boathouse, and so the Halloween trip is usually pretty short. So, the week before Halloween is the last full scale outing.

It was near high tide when we set out and so we decided to brave the Boundary Channel, a thin, twisty stretch of water that runs between Columbia Island and Virginia. The channel is impassable except near high tide. It also has a surprisingly remote feeling, bounded as it is by highways and the Pentagon. I've seen wood ducks happily nesting back there. A challenge to navigate during the day, the channel is really quite a trip in total darkness. But we followed each others marker lights and all made it through without incident.

After we got off the water it was Chipotle as usual. punctuated by one of our group being punched by an aggressive homeless guy on a bridge over the C&O canal. No harm done, and the presence of Tom in the group (Tom is about 6' 5" and, while a really nice guy, can present a pretty intimidating mien when he needs to be) prevented any further problems.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bikur Cholim on the Bay


A couple of days ago I was a recipient of an email from a friend who was organizing a kayak trip out to Thomas Point Lighthouse in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. In and of itself this was nothing unusual, as this particular friend frequently organizes challenging paddles around the Bay. What was different this time, though his email didn't mention it, was that his cancer had returned in a big way. The unmentioned (though known to most of us) motivation for this trip was to provide an opportunity for him to do something he loved while on a break from chemo.

Now, I was doubtful that someone in his condition could do anything like the fourteen miles of open water paddling that this trip would entail. I had no doubt, though, that he wanted his friends' support. This was a prime, if out of the ordinary, chance to perform the mitzvah (moral and spiritual obligation) of Bikur Cholim, or visiting the sick. As one web site describes it:

Bikur cholim is a term encompassing a wide range of activities performed by an individual or a group to provide comfort and support to people who are ill, homebound, isolated and/or otherwise in distress. The Bible tells us that human beings are created in the image of God and instructs us to aspire to be like God by emulating God’s ways. God visits Abraham while he was recuperating after being circumcised (Genesis 17:26-18:1). The Talmud (Biblical Commentary) teaches us that 'As He visited the sick, so shall you visit the sick…' [http://www.bikurcholimcc.org/whatisbc.html]
As it happened, the weather dealt us a challenging time. I awoke this morning to find that a small craft advisory was in effect for the bay due to high winds. Usually I'll cancel my plans in weather like this. This time, however, I loaded the kayak on the car and headed out, figuring that at least we'd all gather together and support our friend - and weather forecasts can turn our to be wrong.

I arrived at about 8:30 AM and from the sheltered vantage point of the put-in at Galesville, MD, conditions didn't seem bad at all - maybe the forecast would turn out to be wrong. Eleven of us showed up, and we decided to make a go of it, figuring we could always detour out of the wind into shelter in one of the rivers along the Chesapeake. We launched a little after 9 AM, heading up North towards Annapolis. Well, as soon as we rounded the corner out of the Galesville cove, the wind hit us full force. Blowing about a steady 25 MPH, with stronger gusts. We turned north as planned, straight into it. I've got to say that while it's difficult, I love paddling into the wind. The feel of the oncoming waves lifting the bow of the kayak and slapping it back down on the trough of the wave is exhilarating. As we struggled upwind it quickly became clear that it would be crazy to even attempt Thomas Point. Our friend quickly became fatigued and turned back, escorted by one of the other paddlers for safety. The remaining nine of us continued our struggle up the bay with a goal of reaching the Rhode River. It's about two miles from the put-in to the mouth of the Rhode, a trip that would take a group no more than 30 minutes on a calm day. Today it took more than twice that long. We turned into the Rhode looking for relief from the weather. Once in the river the waves calmed down, but the wind was even more fierce than on the bay. The river seemed to be channeling the wind right at us. So, after slogging along for maybe another mile we decided to turn back.

Paddling with a strong wind at your back is completely different that paddling into the wind. Gone is the repeated hammering and refreshing spray as you plow through waves. In its place is the weird feeling of being carried along on the waves - kayak surfing. The speed of being propelled by the waves is cool. Unfortunately, with it comes a loss of control - as the waves hit you they try and spin your kayak around, and it's constant work to stay on course. At one point the waves turned me 90 degrees from the direction I wanted to paddle and I struggled to get pointed back the right way. With each stroke I'd turn a little, and with each wave I'd turn back. Finally, I got in a good groove of riding the waves and rocketed back to the launch - I was the first one back.

We all got off the water invigorated from the challenging conditions. The two paddlers who had turned back early were still there, and after packing our gear away we all broke out our food and settled down at some picnic tables. As I mentioned, the launch point is sheltered from the wind, and it had warmed up considerably by the time we got back. We had a pleasant and leisurely lunch, all said warm goodbyes to our host, then headed for home.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tashlich kayaking

It's not every day that G-d commands you to go kayaking. Well, by the most strict interpretations there's not any day when kayaking is a commandment. But every once in a while an opportunity comes along wherein you can twist the interpretation of religious practice such that it can involve kayaking. And that's why I love the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashonah. One of the traditional customs of this holiday is Tashlich.

Tashlich is a ritual casting off of sins. In its most commonly practiced form people walk to a spot with flowing water, say a prayer, and symbolically throw their sins into the water to be carried away. The practice has its basis in an interpretation of Micah 7:18-20, which states, “He will cast off our sins into the depths of the seas.” While it's not 100% certain when observance of this custom started, the prophet Nehemiah mentions that on Rosh Hashonah “All the Jews gathered as one in the street that is in front of the gate of water.” Like many Jewish practices, there are many variations on the practice. For example, some Jews cast bits of bread on the water and watch them be carried away. Other groups say that the bread custom is completely forbidden, since (among other reasons) carrying the bread to the water is forbidden work on a holiday such as Rosh Hashonah. Such is the glory of a decentralized religion like Judaism.

Anyway, readers who stayed awake through the preceding paragraph may have noticed mention of a mitzvah involving proximity to flowing water. Note that performance of this mitzvah does not require that you stay on the bank of the water. In fact, what better way to feel the swirling push and pull of sins being cast off than to actually perform Tashlich out on the water?

At this morning's worship service I had the honor of being on the be'imah (pulpit) along with other board members and David, the temple president. As we waited for the service to begin I raised my idea with David. I had to admit I had a pretty good idea of what his opinion on the subject would be, seeing as how he had his Wilderness Systems Tsunami kayak already loaded onto the roof of his car. We conferred and agreed that a kayak is indeed a fine platform from which to perform the Tashlich ritual. Such is the glory of the Reform branch of Judaism. So, right after services I headed home, switched from tallit to Tevas, threw the boat on the car, and headed for Columbia Island Marina. Unfortunately, David wasn't going to be able to go out until later in the afternoon and so we couldn't observe this custom together.

It was mid-tide when I launched and so I knew the Boundary Channel would be impassible. I therefore headed out to the Potomac. As I headed upriver I was surprised to find a fairly strong wind at my back. With the help of this possibly divine wind I made it up to Roosevelt Island in no time at all. There, in the lee of the island I was able to pause and take out a few bits of bread and my printouts. I put the bread on the deck, read the traditional passages from Micah and Psalms 33, flipped the kayak over to release the bread into the water, then rolled back up. Despite the rabbinic suggestion in Pirke Avot to “Turn it and turn it again”, I did not do any more rolls – the water's starting to get kind of cold!

After completing the Tashlich ritual I continued upriver, figuring I'd stop by Jack's Boathouse to wish a L'Shanah Tovah (Happy New Year) to Paul, one of the proprietors. Unfortunately, there was no one down at the docks when I got there and so I continued on. About the time I left Jack's the wind picked up some more and it started getting darker. The weather forecast had included “Scattered Thunderstorms” and so I figured I should hightail it back to the put-in. I headed back down river, having fun banging through the slight chop on the way down. Fortunately the thunderstorm never arrived. In fact, by the time I got back to the marina it was sunny again.

I loaded the kayak back on the car, had a traditional Rosh Hashonah lunch of an energy bar and a Coke Zero at a picnic table by the water, then headed home with a purified spirit.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Nation's Triathlon


One of the things kayakers get called upon to do is to support swimmers who are participating in events usch as triathlons or long open water swims. Kayaks can be up close to the swimmers as they don't pose a threat or obstacle to swimmers the way powerboats would. Swim support kayakers perform several functions, including herding swimmers who stray from the course, serving as a rest stop for swimmers who need a break and, occasionally, serving to tow swimmers out to rescue boats waiting outside the course. Of course, along the way we shout encouragement as well.

Today I volunteered at the Nation's Traithlon, a swim/bike/run event held right in DC. The mayor of DC, a fitness buff, participated, though I couldn't tell him from the rest of the swimmers. The event started with the swim leg, and the first wave started at 7:30 AM, so we kayakers had to be on the water early. We met up at Columbia Island Marina before dawn and paddled across to the starting line on the DC side (I know, technically Columbia Island is "the DC side as well) as the sun came up. We then spread out to cover the whole course. The course was roughly box-shaped. I took up position near the first turn. This is a challenging spot, as it is the first point at which the swimmers have to change course and a lot of swimmers miss it.

The swimmers launch in waves. Each wave wears a different colored swim cap. I'm not sure what the official puprose of this is, but from the kayakers' perspective it makes it pretty easy to spot the people who are falling behind their wave. I generally keep a closer watch on those people. There were some swimmers who I *never* thought would make it to the end, including one guy who was just floating on his back, slowly stroking with his arms - no kicking at all. But he made it, as did a number of the other slow-and-steady types.

All in all it was fun, as such events usually are. It was a beautiful day out on the water, we were close to home, and Dave B. was good enough to provide a truck bed full of donuts - enough to feed the paddlers both before and after the race. Plus I had the nice surprise of meeting up with the President of my temple, David L. I had known David was a paddler but he's not part of the Georgetown group and so I didn't expect to see him. It turns out, though that he knew someone who was competing in the Tri and so he volunteered. He and I bump into each other not only at temple board meetings, but also at all sorts of other places: on the water, at the yoga studio, ...

More images here.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Early morning Antietam

V and I spent the night in a B&B in Sharpsburg, MD. This was our last night with both children away, and we chose to make a special little expedition out of it. We went first to Frederick, where we browsed the little shops in the old downtown. From there we took country roads to Sharpsburg, where we checked into the Jacob Rohrbach Inn, named for a former owner of the building who was killed by troops passing through during the battle of Antietam.

As usual, I got up early and V slept late. Breakfast at the Inn wasn't until 8 AM, so I went out for a stroll down Main St. at about 6 looking for coffee and, truth be told, a couple of geocaches in town. Main St. looks pretty much the same as it did in the 1860s. There's little commercial development, and the buildings all look to date from the early to mid 19th Century. In the early morning, with few cars around, it's easy to envision the two armies marching down these streets.

I found the two caches easily, and happened upon a gas station that was opening up. I figured that soon they'd have coffee brewing, so I continued only a little further on my walk. This took me to the Antietam Battlefield Cemetery, a sobering place to visit on July 4th with the nation at war.

On the way back I was indeed able to pick up a cup of coffee, and made it back to the B&B to find V just waking up.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Berger Maintenance


Today the boys and I participated in a trail maintenance event at Alexander Berger Wildlife Sanctuary near Fredericksburg. We noticed the event because it was listed as a geocaching event - some local cachers had done this to publicize the trail maintenance day, which was really a Nature Conservancy event.

And the cachers did more than list it. The couple who had listed it showed up with a veritable feast of trail food - coolers of soda, every sort of snack bar imaginable, fresh-baked cookies, fruit and more! We were a well-fed crew. And a hard-working one too. The group split up into three work parties: one walked trails clearing brush, another side-hilled the trails (dug the trails back into the sides of hills) and a third built log walkways over some areas that had flooded due to beaver activity. T went with the brush-clearers, while D & I worked bridges. It was not an easy day! Two days later and I'm still sore. But a lot of fun, and everyone there was really nice - the staff, the cachers and the non-cacher volunteers. We even won a prize for having traveled the furthest to the event. In a way it doesn't seem fair, since we were passing thrugh anyway on our way to go camping at Westmoreland State Park.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Hope Springs Eternal

I came upstairs a little while ago to find my wife watching an an old Sex and the City re-run. Now, I must admit to knowing the basic story arc of the show, however I haven’t seen nearly all the episodes. But the one V was watching tonight is my new all-time favorite. Why? Because it’s the one where Harry Goldenblatt and Charlotte first hook up. The idea that an average-looking, bald Jewish guy could wind up with an uber-Shiksa like Charlotte is an inspirational fantasy for those of us who happen to be average-looking, bald Jewish guys. Not that I’m in the market for a new relationship, uber-Shiksa or otherwise. But it makes you think anything is possible.

And now, the tenuous hook to the outdoorsy theme of this blog: one positive thing about being bald; you don’t look mussed up after rolling a kayak.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Early morning at Mason Neck

Today is my first Friday off in my employer’s new “9/80” program – work 80 hours in 9 days, get every other Friday off. It’s kinda funny – we all work nine or more hours a day anyway, so it really hasn’t made my other days much longer. As one of my colleagues said, for us it’s a tacit approval to actually take some of those many accrued comp hours every once in a while.

Anyway, as soon as the family was out the door this morning I threw the kayak on the car and headed down to Mason Neck. It was a misty morning – quite beautiful, in fact – the water and sky differentiated only by varying shades of gray. Mason Neck is always a great place for bird life. This morning, the wonders started before I even got on the water. As I was unloading my boat a bald eagle swooped by and grabbed a fish out of the water. I stood transfixed by this scene, realizing only after a minute or so that I still had my sixty pound kayak slung over my shoulder. The rest of the trip was equally enthralling, birdwise: lots of eagles, ospreys, blue herons, geese, and the occasional cormorant.

I paddled for about two hours. After celebrating the (finally) warm water with some rolling, I first headed out to Conrad Island. The water was as high as I had ever seen it, so I decided from there to poke up Kane’s Creek. I stopped where the Sensitive Wildlife Area warning signs are posted across the creek.. This was the first time in quite a while the water level had been high enough for me to make it even that far. After paddling back out of the creek I did a little loop around part of Belmont Bay then headed to shore.

I have been focusing on improving my stroke this season, and today I did something I have never done before. I put my GPS receiver up on deck, set to show speed, then I monkeyed with my stroke mechanics to see what worked best. I also did some sprints, trying to keep up higher speeds (for me, this means in the 5-5.5 MPH range) for extended periods. I was even able to break 6 MPH a couple of times, but I can’t hold that speed for very long. The use of the GPS was very enlightening and offered me a challenge to keep a steady pace. I think I’ll be doing that again.

I got off the water just as the clouds were burning off and it was starting to get hot. All in all, a very pleasant morning.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

ECCKF Trip: Day Six

Not much to report from today. There were tremendous thunderstorms overnight. I got up at 5 AM so I could get rolling early. I had a can of Starbucks espresso drink (so I wouldn't have to spend time making coffee) and some kosher for Passover breakfast cereal (sawdust in the shape of Apple Jacks). I threw the wet gear into the car to be dried out at home and got on the road. I wish I could have stayed for the last day, but I needed to get home for our Passover seder.

The drive home through SC & NC was easy. As I crossed the NC/VA border I hit a wall of storms. It was a slog through heavy rain the rest of the way home. The trip home, stopping only for bathroom breaks, took nine and a half hours. Youch.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

ECCKF Trip: Day Five


Today started off with a sunrise trip in Charleston Harbor. I got up at 5 AM, made myself a quick breakfast then headed over to the meeting point at 6 AM. From there we caravanned over to the put-in, about 5 miles from the park. We hit the water just as the sun came up – another beautiful day – and were almost immediately joined by dolphins. There were two to the right of us and a couple more out to the left. They stayed alongside for about ten minutes. That was really cool.

The trip, while really enjoyable, wasn’t very organized. The trip leader’s initial briefing was just that we would paddle towards Ft. Sumter, but would turn around short of the fort so we could get back on time. Except if we wanted to. But then we wouldn’t be with the group anymore. He made no assessment of anyone’s skills, though he did set up a sweep to follow the group. It didn’t take long after launching for the group to get very spread out on the water. I was in the front group with the leader, who was paddling pretty quickly. At one point he did stop and say we should wait for the group to close up, but then he immediately started paddling again. Before we knew it we were landing on the beach at Sumter (the place, you’ll remember, where we weren’t going).

Along the way I had noticed that one woman was getting really panicy. She was paddling an NDK Romany, and said she wasn’t used to the tippiness of the boat. She said she had just gotten it and was used to the greater stability of her old boat, a Wilderness Systems Tempest 170. Since I happened to be paddling my Tempest 170 and am also very comfortable in a Romany (I own one of those too) I offered to switch with her for the return trip. She readily accepted. She had a much happier paddle back, and I got to play in a Romany (still my favorite boat), so it was a win-win. On the paddle back I chatted with one of the woman’s friends, who said that this woman has a tendency to panic under any kind of uncertain conditions, which explains why she was freaking out in what were really very benign conditions – the smallest of rollers from the wind and tide. I’m glad I was able to help her out.

At the end of the paddle I got back into my car and flipped on the GPS to guide me back to the festival, since we weren’t all caravanning back together. Lo and behold, the unit said there was a geocache 350 feet away! I grabbed a pen, hopped back out of the car, and dashed over to make a quick find. By this point the tour guide was ready to leave and lock the gate behind him, so I sprinted back to the car so as not to hold up the last of the group.

I got back to camp about 9:30 AM and had a snack of some cereal and the leftover coffee from early in the morning. Mmmm, cold coffee that had been sitting in the French press for four hours. Maybe not the ultimate gourmet coffee experience, but far from the worst cup I’ve ever had!

The rest of the day was a whirl of classes (Core Paddling with Ben Lawry, Balance Drills w/ Karen Knight), trying out boats (I really like the Valley Aquanaut LV. Must refrain from buying more boats. Must refrain from buying more boats. Must refrain ...), and a spectacular evening show featuring Dubside, Nigel Foster, Alison Sigethy and the team of Karen Knight and Boob Foote.

I finished the evening by hanging out at the campsite with my friends Dan, Kathryn, Marla and Steve. Then I headed back over to my tent where I quickly conked out.

Friday, April 18, 2008

ECCKF Trip: Day Four

Today I checked out of the hotel to fully immerse myself in the kayak festival. It was a quick and easy drive from Mt. Pleasant over to James Island Park (I had done the drive the day before to participate in the Nigel Foster Master Class). I registered, put the boat I’m trying to sell in the “Used Boat” area, then headed over to the put-in to unload my kayak. There I ran into Dan and Kathryn, two friends who I knew were going to be attending. They in turn introduced me to two other people I knew were going to be attending, but who I hadn’t met before (they live near Baltimore, the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Paddler’s Assn, and so our paths hadn’t crossed before). We helped each other unload, then I headed over to the Master Class area for my 10 AM class, which was Forward Stroke with master kayak racer Ben Lawry. Ben is the antithesis of Nigel Foster. Where Foster is laid back and teaches by having you experiment, Lawry has the intensity of a racer. He puts you through the paces, he directs you what to do, and you had better do what he says! Well, maybe I’m being too negative – the class, after all, was great! I learned a lot that will improve my stroke. I also bumped into Alison Sigethy. Alison is a world-class Greenland style paddler and an acquaintance of mine. She was teaching a master class on Greenland style paddling.

Next came a lunch break and a chance to wander through the vendor area – kayak manufacturers, gear makers, etc. I controlled myself and didn’t buy anything. I also scooted over to the campground to check in and set up my tent. My instructional day finished up with a Boat Control class taught by Steve Scherer. It repeated a lot of material I had covered in Foster’s class, so it gave me a chance to practice those skills, as well as to pick up a few extra tips.

I had barely gotten off the water when it was time for the happy hour & then the group dinner, which led straight into an evening presentation by a guy who had made films about paddling in the Pacific Northwest and an amazing kayak trip through Peru. I ate dinner with a mix of people I had met during the day, and people I know from back home. It’s nice how people begin to mingle as the weekend wears on.

By the time I got back to may campsite at about 9:30 I was tired! I knew I had to get up early Saturday, so I finished setting up camp then headed to bed.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

ECCKF Trip: Day Three


Today was the first day of the kayaking part of my trip. It was Foster, Foster and more Foster.

The day started a little strangely. During breakfast at the hotel, another guest started yelling angrily at the hotel staff for having called the police on him the previous night. Apparently the police visit at 1 AM upset him so much he got no sleep all night! Ummm, maybe carousing loudly at 1 AM had something to do with your lack of sleep too. Surprisingly, he isn't in the room next to mine.

After breakfast I drove over to James Island Park, the site of the kayak festival. The main festival starts tomorrow, and so things were just getting set up. the woman at the entrance gate had no idea where the Thursday classes were being held, but it wasn't too hard to find the right spot.

My class was an all day session with Nigel Foster, who is one of the best known names in kayaking. This is the kayaking equivalent of spending the day tossing a football around with Peyton Manning, or hittin' some balls with Tiger Woods. The class was small - just Nigel, 5 students, plus an assistant from the park. His method of teaching is via discovery. He gives you different little exercises (e.g., "try these four different combinations of boat position and paddle stroke, and tell me what you notice about how each one makes you turn"), then explains the results. It was a very informative, enjoyable session. The day concluded with a few tricks out of the "Fun with Foster" bag - moving backward while appearing to paddle forward (the kayak equivalent of moon-walking), standing up in the kayaks on the water, etc. I wasn't sure at the outset how a full day of such a class would be (Foster frequently teaches two hour sessions at these events), but I must say, the time really flew by. The perfect weather helped make the day even better. It was still cold when I left Virginia and so I came prepared for cold weather and cold water. I think the whole East Coast warmed up this week, and I'm 500 miles south of home, so let me tell you, there is no cold weather here this weekend. I wore my wetsuit because of the slightly chilly water, but I was shvitzing. During the peak heat of the day I had to do a few sculling braces (dipping my upper torso in the water without capsizing) to get wet and keep cool.

My one disappointment of the day was that I had hoped to be able to meet up with some friends who were due to arrive at the festival today. Unfortunately, when I got off the water at 5 PM they hadn't yet arrived, so I headed back to my hotel in Mt. Pleasant. I was bummed out all through the drive, but my disappointment was eased by a return visit to the Boulevard Diner. Man, that place is good. Tonight I had tilapia with a cajun sauce over fried grit cakes, with sauteed snow peas and corn, served with corn bread. More delicious Southern cooking. If I had been served this food at Georgia Brown's in DC at twice the price, I still would have been thrilled. As it is, the place is a steal. I controlled myself once again and didn't order dessert, settling again for a free Hampton Inn cookie and some decaf.

Now I have got to pack up my stuff so I can get an early start back over to the festival grounds tomorrow.

Tomorrow and Saturday I'll be camping at the festival, so I'm sure I'll start to run into more people I know. Exploring on my own is fun, but it gets a little lonely after a while.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

ECCKF Trip: Day Two

Not on the water yet, so if you're reading this for the kayaking angle, you can stop now.

I spent today sightseeing in Charleston. I started the day by heading downtown and strolling along White Point. This is the southernmost tip of Charleston, and features a beautiful view of the bay. Then I strolled and drove through the quiet streets and alleys of the area, enjoying the antebellum architecture of the residential neighborhoods.

I continued by heading over to the historic synagogue. The congregation was founded by Sephardic Jews in the 1700's, and has been in the same spot ever since. The present building dates to 1841. It is not merely a historic place; it is also still an operating congregation.

I showed up at 10 AM, when the tours were supposed to start. I came in right behind an older woman, who seemed a little confused and lost. She turned out to be the tour guide. She explained that this was her first day back and she was still a little jet-lagged from her recent trip to Europe. The other docent pulled me aside and said, in effect, that our guide was a little ditzy, but interesting and fun - but that if I had any questions after the tour I should come see her.

My tour group consisted of me and two women from LA. The guide proceeded to give us a talk that lived up to the "ditzy, but interesting and fun" billing. Our guide was from an old Jewish Charleston family. Her talk was completely non-linear, jumping around from topic to topic, including not only the history of Jewish Charleston but also family stories, reminiscences about the Charleston of her parents' day, some bitterness over the outcome of the Civil War, some rather strange discussions of slavery (well, countries all around the world had slavery back then), discussions of the rice/cotton/indigo economy, her impressions of her recent trip to Eastern Europe, and more. She was a character! I feel like I got a little taste of Charleston culture - beyond just the Jewish part - just from hearing her talk. After she finished, I went into the temple's little museum area where I met up with another group, being given a tour by the more lucid, if not as charming, docent. I got to hear a little about the historical tchotchkes on display - including an amazing story of a silver cup that disappeared when the locals fled from General Sherman's advance, but which was recognized in Connecticut antique shop 100 years later.

By the time I got out of the temple it was lunchtime. I wandered around looking for something quick and easy - preferably with Wifi, since the hotel's connection had been down. I settled on a little coffee bar, where I had a small sandwich & checked email.

Through mid-afternoon I continued to stroll the streets of downtown Charleston. Then I headed out to Fort Moultrie (the more historic sister fort of Ft. Sumter) for some history. The weather was beautiful all day. A nice day overall.

Dinner was a little disappointing - a highly recommended restaurant, but a rather bland dinner.

Tomorrow, the kayaking begins with a day with Nigel Foster!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

ECCKF Trip: Day One

Today is the first day of my trip down to Charleston, SC for the East Coast Canoe and Kayak Festival. I have decided to go down a day early so I can sightsee in Charleston for a day. I've never been there before so I'm excited about going.

I got on the road after getting the boys off to school this morning and spending some time how to cram all my stuff into the car. I wanted to try to fit everything in the luggage compartment so nothing would be a tempting theft target (the two kayaks on the roof are bad enough). That proved impossible, so I put my grocery bags in the back seat. I hope that no one is hungry enough to break in to steal my Power Bars and matzo.

My first entertainment, as I was heading Southbound, was to see how far I would get before I saw a pickup truck with a Confederate flag. Unfortunately, that game was over less than 100 miles south of home, so for the rest of the trip I entertained myself with music, podcasts, and enjoying the bland scenery of I95. It's a long trip (8.5 hours) but an easy one.

Finding the hotel was a cinch, and along the way I got to get a cool view of the harbor (including the remains of Fort Sumter) from the Arthur Ravenel Jr. bridge. These first couple of nights I'm staying at a hotel - I'll camp during the festival. My hotel is in what one of the guidebooks calls "chic Mt. Pleasant." I'm not sure how chic the place is. It seems a little like Arlington - a "just across the river" urban suburb that has, because of its proximity to the city, become ever more affluent.

I got a restaurant recommendation from the woman at the front desk, and it was great! The place is called the Boulevard Diner. It looks like a hole in the wall inside an out. Like the neighborhood, though, it's gone upscale. the cooking is upscale Southern diner. I had a fried grouper sandwich with yellow squash and onions. mmmm! The restaurant seems to be a neighborhood hangout - a lot of the clientèle seemed to know both one another and the restaurant staff.

Now I'm back at the hotel.

Pictures from the day:
ECCKF Charleston

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A couple more local solo trips


I have had a little extra time on my hands as my old job winds down, so I have found time to kick off the kayaking season with some spur of the moment solo trips. Easter Sunday I had Mson Neck park pretty much to myself. I tried poking up Kane's Creek but quickly got stuck in the mud. Instead I paddled "to the left", along the shoreline towards the Potomac. As usual, the bird life was great - bald eagles, ospreys, cormorants. Apparently they don't take Easter off from being birds. There I am to the left, taking a break along the shore. It was so quiet and peaceful. I wound up doing some yoga along the beach. In retrospect, it looks pretty goofy with the PFD and drysuit. Trust me, it was extremely peaceful and relaxing at the time.

Today I kind of blew off work and paddled out of Columbia Island Marina in Arlington (well, technically, it's DC, but you'd never know it). I can't believe I've never launched there before - so close to home, and nice facilities. And situated on (no kidding) the Pentagon Lagoon. I have heard rumors it's a gay cruising spot in the summer, but there was no evidence of that sort of activity today. Not a single Senator in the bathroom, or anything.

I paddled up the Boundary Channel. This is a peaceful little stretch of water between Columbia Island and the Pentagon grounds. It's navigable only at high tide, and is quite narrow and shallow at best, so there are never any big boats back there. The area is inhabited both by homeless folks and a variety of wildlife, which makes for some interesting scenery. Today I saw two kinds of herons, mallards, wood ducks (they're so cute!) and cormorants. And several homeless encampments. It's a shame that people have to live this way in the capital of our rich nation.

But I digress ... I looped up around Roosevelt Island, then back down the Potomac side to the marina. Not a super long paddle, but a nice one. The dinner boats were out in force - I guess they add special lunch trips for cherry blossom season.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Boy Scout Camping @ Manidokan


Due to a shortage of adult leaders, I volunteered to camp with T's Boy Scout troop this weekend. We camped at Manidokan Retreat Center, in Maryland between Frederick & Harpers Ferry. The site was pretty, but we were on the crest of a hill and so had no relief from a strong, unseasonably cold wind that blew all weekend. It was cold! T, who rarely gets cold, actually put on a jacket, and then borrowed one of mine as a wind barrier OK, he was still wearing shorts, but T with two jackets on is a rare occurrence.

On the Boy Scout trips the boys run the show. That's pretty neat - the adults don't have to do much work at all. We did, however, have to eat Scout-prepared food: nearly-raw steaks (I put mine back on the fire for a while after it was declared "done" by the cook), over-cooked pasta and instant mashed potatoes. Of course, no vegetables in sight. The above picture gives some idea of what eating with the Scouts is like.

Dessert was a sort of cherry cobbler - hot canned cherry pie filling with a layer of yellow cake mix on top. I was so cold, and it was so warm, that I actually had seconds of the cobbler. We also got to listen to the Scouts bicker over who had to do which chores - just like at our house.

Other than that, we did a nice hike, had a nice campfire, and had a generally good time. T & I hit a few geocaches on the way home, introducing one of his friends to the sport.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ice Pirates Defrost


This week was one of our last Ice Pirate outings. In a couple of weeks, the Pirates of Georgetown officially starts up for the season. The dry suits, neoprene hoods and other cold weather gear will get packed away, and we'll be out enjoying the warmth and later sunsets of Spring. Image courtesy of Paige. Look - we're all using Greenland paddles.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The bad boys of caching

Today T & I took on a geocaching trail down in Dumfries (a town sometimes referred to as Dumsh*t). A group of three cachers has set up this amazing trail along a local bike path. There are geocaches every quarter mile or so - over 50 in all! T & I were going to bike the whole thing, but unfortunately my bike had a flat tire. So ... we wound up parking in the middle and walking the top quarter or so of the cahes (then walking back - a total of about six miles). As we were walking back, we saw some other cachers doing a "cache and dash" - at each cache location they'd pull over to the side of the road. One would wait in the car while the other went out and found the cache. They caught up with us just as we were getting back to our car. I usually don't like to work this way - it violates my idea of getting out there and really doing it. But, in this case, the lure of more caches was too hard, and it was fun kind of caravaning. So, the four of us set off in our two cars to pick up the next quarter of the trail.

Let me say that Fiarfax cops are pretty vigilant. We got stopped twice by cops wondering what we were doing. And, the cache hiders had foolishly hidden one right by a first responder station. they chased us away too. In the end, we logged over 25 finds and avoided the slammer.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Moving the Docks, Feb 2008


Here are a few pictures from moving the docks back upriver to Jack's boathouse this past weekend. I knew I wouldn't be able to make it down in time to ferry the docks back up, so I timed my arrival for when I thought they'd make it up to Georgetown. When I got there the parking lot was full but the place was deserted. It was a sunny afternoon so I took out my book and started, to paraphrase Otis Redding, Sittin' with the docks on the way, wastin' time. Within a few minutes I could see the dock flotilla start to peek out from around Roosevelt Island. Soon thereafter Frank Day alighted from a launch onto the small winter dock - a further harbinger of the docks' imminent arrival. Once the group got close we all got busy cleating, then uncleating, then swinging, then securing the docks into place.

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