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.