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.