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.