Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Skiing the W&OD

This weekend we had one of those (cue dramatic music and digital titles) "Storm of the Century" storms. It's pretty unusual for us to get enough snow to ski here in Arlington so I took the opportunity to strap on my skis and hit the trail. Clearly I wasn't the only one with this idea. By the time I hit the trail there were well established ski grooves and I came across about half a dozen other skiers along the way.

The W&OD trail was a pristine winter wonderland. The little foot bridge over Four Mile Run to the trail was like a pathway into a deep wood. I love the look of streams in snow and paused to reflect on the Four Mile Run before continuing on. I took the trail through the parks, down past the caboose, all the way to Carlin Springs Rd. Pretty much my morning running route. There was so much snow that even some of the typical bare spots under the overpasses were filled in. No problem at McKinley Rd. A few steps over bare spots at Patrick Henry Drive. The only real bare patch was the long underpass under Wilson Blvd.

This morning I tried to repeat the experience with less satisfacotry results. The W&OD trail had been plowed clear of snow (the bike trail was cleared before my street!). Fortunately there were new ski grooves cut alongside the trail. Unfortunately, about 1/2 mile down the trail one of my 30 year old ski boots gave out - the "duckbill" that attaches to the ski broke off. Still, it was nice to have a second taste of skiing the trail and it was a quick walk home.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Swan Song for Brooklyn?

It's not as cold as I expected as I step out the door of the Sheepshead Bay Comfort Inn. I'm at the southernmost end of Brooklyn, an area exposed to outer New York Bay and the ocean beyond. In the summer this can result in a nice cooling breeze. In the winter, it can mean a biting wind. I indeed feel the wind as I step out from the shelter of the hotel and begin my run up Emmons Avenue. It's blowing hard enough that I squint my eyes a little in response. I'm dressed right, though, and so it doesn't bother me.

I make my way up Emmons Ave, past the abandoned Dunkin' Donuts and the half completed condos. The bay opens up to my left as I pass the fishing boat docks. A few people mill about. The morning fishing boats have already left and the stores aren't open yet so there's not much reason for people to be out and about, however being New York there's always someone around. My run takes me down through Sheepshead Bay, over the footbridge that crosses the bay, then down through the relatively ritzy neighborhood of Manhattan Beach, and ultimately to the campus of Kingsborough Community College, known locally as "K on the Bay".

On the way back I notice the ducks in the water have been joined by a number of mute swans. I don't come to Brooklyn expecting to see wildlife so it's a pleasant surprise to see these beautiful creatures adding a touch of grace to the otherwise gray and murky scene.

Friday night I had dinner with a bunch of old high school friends, none of whom live in Brooklyn any more. Few of them ever make it back here. I have been coming back here to visit family all these years but may soon be in the same boat. Now that my mom is gone I don't whether my dad will continue to live here. My connections to the old place are fading. One of these trips could be my own Brooklyn swan song.

[Photo from http://www.planetware.com/]

Saturday, November 28, 2009


How long does it take to get to Mason Neck State Park? Apparently, five minutes more than I think. No matter how much time I allot to get to this park I always wind up a little on the late side. Well, today I wasn't actually late. I was on time. It's just that most everyone else had gotten there early.

It was a blustery morning (Small Craft Advisory in effect, winds gusting to 30 MPH) and I arrived just behind my friend Mark. We were numbers seven & eight to arrive out of a total of nine. No worries - I quickly unloaded my gear and find I'm ready to go well ahead of Kurt, the last arrival.

Let me say that whatever kayaking cojones I have shrivel up as the weather turns cold - I am a cold water wimp. So, looking out at the whitecaps and feeling the wind gusts, I suggest that we start our trip as planned but stop and assess our situation at High Point before we head out into the more open section of the river. My more adventurous friends grumble their agreement. Our planned destination is Leesylvania State Park, the name of which always makes me think of Moosylvania from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. As we get underway we pound our way through some light chop and wind. At the point we decide it's not so bad and so continue on as planned. The only compromise we make to the weather is we chart a course that minimizes our open water time rather than our distance - though I have to laugh when I look at the track log because it's clear that 3/4 of the way across we say "the heck with it" and change course to head straight for Leesylvania. I'm paddling my Shearwater, which has neither rudder nor skeg, so I have to do a lot of sweep strokes to keep the kayak on course in the beaming waves. My left elbow soon begins to get really achy to the point where it's a challenge to stay on course. I make a note that I really need to develop better directional control of this boat. But I make it to Leesylvania without incident.

Lunch at the beach at Leesylvania is pure joy. We're all quite warmed up in our dry suits and so the wind doesn't bother us. It's sunny and about 50 degrees - quite pleasant, if you're dressed for it. The wind even drops off for a little while. My PB&J and green tea hit the spot. I could stay here all day.

The paddle back is more direct and faster. This time we decide to go straight across rather than hug the shoreline. Because of my achy elbow, my safety conscious friend Tom sticks close by me the whole time. I'm not keeping up with the fastest paddlers in the group, but I'm not lagging behind either. The wind and waves, still somewhat abeam, in the balance help rather than hinder us in this direction. Before we know it we're scraping through the hydrilla plants that choke the Mason Neck launch area and are back on land. Alas, no hanging out afterward. Everyone has places to go. We load our gear and get on the road.

Oh, and I should mention we see eagles - just two today. One circling above us as we launched, the other at the top of a tree. Both spotted by Cyndi, who has an amazing eye for bird-spotting.

(Photos: #1: Track Log; #2: Rob and Mihail launching)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ice Pirates Kickoff

The "normal" kayaking season for the weeknight paddling groups ends around Halloween. After all, past that time of year it's dark out by the time one would launch, plus it starts getting cold. Which means it's perfect paddling weather!

Tonight we kicked off the unofficial Thursday night "Ice Pirates" group - those of us who keep showing up and paddling into the winter. I must admit I have been only an intermittent ice pirate these last couple of years, choosing to spend my Thursday nights in the warmth of the yoga studio rather than the cold of the Potomac. I must say, though, that tonight's paddle made winter-time paddling seem pretty enticing.

It had been a drizzly day, but the rain stopped at around 5 PM. Conditions as we set out were gorgeous. The water was like glass, perfectly reflecting the lights of the city. A slight mist hung over the river, blurring the boundary between river and sky. I've heard that pilots can lose their bearings at night and get confused as to which way is up and which is down. I kind of felt the same way as we glided along tonight through this merged version of water and sky. We shared the river only with its inhabitants - ducks, geese and herons. We saw no other boats the whole time we were out.

We did the usual upriver trip, around Roosevelt Island. With the tide up and a couple of days of rain in the river, we opted for the Boundary Channel on the way home. That this twisty, shallow little stretch of water is damn near impossible to navigate in the dark is part of its appeal.

Late that night there was a rare November thunderstorm. It was as if the weather had been held back to give us an opportunity for communing with the river, then unleashed with full fury once we were all safely home.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Sky (Meadows) is the Limit

What? It's going to be sunny and 70 degrees in mid-November? Drop everything and head for the outdoors!!!

Ted and I decided to take advantage of the unusually balmy weather today and go for yet another geocaching hike, this time to Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, VA. After delicious, nutritious breakfasts (Eggos and veggie sausage for me, ice cream and Cheese Nips for Ted) we hopped in the car. I reluctantly took the "death seat", letting Ted do the driving.

Sky Meadows is a nice park, except that the start of the trails is somewhat steep. Stiff from the car ride, we huffed and puffed our way up the hill until we loosened up a little bit. From there it was pretty smooth sailin'. We hiked the North Ridge trail, detouring up to (but not onto) the AT, then returned via the South Ridge, Snowden and Gap Trails, a 4.5 mi loop. According to the GPS we peaked at 1689 feet. While that's only about 800 feet of elevation gain from the parking lot, the rolling terrain made it feel like a lot more. I bet if I calculated the elevation gained and lost it would be 1200 feet.

I would have been willing to continue on and hike the other side of the park, but Valerie and I had plans to meet friends for dinner. So, after hanging out at the farmhouse for a while, Ted and I reluctantly climbed into the car and headed home. Needless to say, as is our wont we made a stop at the Gainesville WaWa Market on the way home.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A quick Florida trip

I did an overnight business trip to Florida this week. I cleverly arranged my first day's meeting so that I found myself free and at Indialantic Beach at about 4 PM on Weds. I started my beach visit by indulging in an ice cream from Coldstone, both because ice cream at the beach just feels right and because it assuaged my guilt at leaving my car in their parking lot. I then took off my tie, rolled up my pants, and switched from shoes to Keen sandals. While I'm sure I was quite the sartorial oddity I didn't care - it made me beach ready and away I went. I spent quite a while strolling the beach (even picking up two geocache finds along the way). Boy, it felt good - the sun, the waves, the sounds. Finally, as the sun started to get low I headed back to the car. I would have liked to have stayed through twilight (a pretty time at the beach) but I knew I had an hour's drive back to Orlando and I didn't want to be doing it too late.

The next morning I figured I needed to work off my food excesses of the day before which included, in addition to the ice cream, a pastrami sandwich and a black & white cookie. I mapped out a 5K loop starting at my hotel and as soon as it got light out the door I went into - wham! - the unexpected heat and humidity of an unseasonably hot Orlando October morning. Man, it was like August in DC. I was huffing and puffing after about a quarter mile because of the heat, but then I started to acclimate and I completed my loop - up Research Parkway then through the UCF campus, finally returning along Alafaya Trail. I'm sure I was quite a sight as I staggered, dripping with sweat, into the hotel breakfast room and started downing diluted orange juice.

Having made a spectacle of myself in two Florida cities in two days, I returned home. Oh, and along the way I got to see an incredibly cool technology briefing facility and tour a high tech mobile command center.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Foliage on the Occoquan

It's become a tradition - every year my friend Tall Tom and I do a leaf-peeping kayaking trip on the Occoquan Reservoir, launching out of Fountainhead Regional Park. This year we were joined by my friend David. David and Tom had never met before - they are from different aspects of my life, but they're both paddlers. Valerie always tells me to stay safe while paddling, and in this case I was in good hands, accompanied as I was by a Red Cross safety professional and an attorney.

We all got there early and launched at about 9:45 AM, after bumping into Tom's and my friend Kingsley, who was not there to kayak but just to schmooze with another group of paddlers. As we launched, David commented that he was surprised there wasn't more wind, given that a front had just passed through. This is something you never want to say while kayaking and indeed, as soon as we cleared the shelter of the marina cove, we were justly punished with a significant headwind.

We pushed upriver for about an hour, taking in the gorgeous foliage along with the abundant birdlife (eagles, ospreys, herons, kingfishers, geese, and more). On the way back we stopped to poke into a cove David knew about, which was a really nice little detour. I get so caught up in covering distances that sometimes I forget the pleasures of exploring the little coves and creeks - which is part of what drew me to kayaking in the first place.

Upon landing we chatted with some guys who had some interesting boats - hand-built wooden canoe, and a Folbot folding kayak. Tom and I bumped into another Chesapeake Paddlers Association guy - it was a popular day for foliage, I guess. Then, we were on our way - me back to the family, David to do some work, and Tom to do household chores.

More photos here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Maybe the River was Haunted

One of our last Thursday night trips of the regular kayaking season (not counting Ice Pirates). As we headed up the river from Columbia Island we found ourselves being carried along by a mysterious wave. I kept looking over at people kayaking to my right and seeing that they were riding this wave - it looked like they were surfing the Potomac. After a minute or so I realized it was carrying me too. Our whole group got swept along for quite a while, making it to Memorial Bridge in record time, beofre the wave finally started to outrun us. There were a couple of confused moments as the wave train went by us, pushing kayaks this way and that as it did. The tail end of the wave kept sucking us along almost all the way to Roosevelt Island.

I have no idea what caused this mini tsunami. It wasn't a boat wake, and the wind was calm. WEll, it was the week before Halloween ... maybe the river was haunted.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gym -- arrgh

I went to the gym today after a long, long absence. I like going to the company gym at a technology firm. There are plenty of other scrawny-lookin' folks there and I never have to feel embarrassed about the not-so-heavy weights I use.

Now to see which aches more tonight, my teeth (I started the day at the dentist) or my muscles.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Ten Miler of One

Sunday morning I got a particularly early start, as I wanted to get a decent paddle in and still spend Sunday afternoon doing some family things. It was just getting light as I headed down the GW Parkway. Taking my eyes off the road for way too long, I marveled for about the zillionth time at the beauty of the monuments.

I got to Columbia Island about 6:45 AM. I had deliberately taken a route unaffected by the road closures associated with the Army Ten Miler, which was being run that day. The Pentagon is just across a narrow channel from the marina and as I unloaded in the distance I could see and hear the hustle and bustle associated with the race. Unbeknownst to me, at the same time I was pulling into the marina my friend Cyndi was arriving on the other side of the Boundary Channel to check in at the race.

In my rush to get out the door I had forgotten my watch, but I knew what time it was when I set out as I could hear church bells chiming 7 AM as I passed under the humpback bridge on my way out of the marina. I headed upriver. I paddled into a light but noticeable breeze as I headed up the river. For the first time this season I felt a little chilly. Along with the beginnings of autumn color in the leaves, the weather was a harbinger of the cooler weather to come. Before you know it, it will be dry suit season. I sighed at the thought of it, but what can you do? A police boat was patrolling under Memorial Bridge, again associated with the Army Ten Miler, I guess. They didn’t take much notice of me.

Since I had gotten an early start I decided to go for a longer trip than usual and continued all the way up to Fletcher’s Boathouse, where I took out for a break. I retrieved my ThermosTM from the day hatch and enjoyed a cup of coffee by the riverbank. I had Fletcher’s just about to myself; it was a peaceful moment as I drank in the coffee’s warmth.

Heading back down the river, I really benefited from moving with, rather than against, the wind and current. As I got past Georgetown I realized I could see part of the Ten Miler course. I watched the runners as I continued down the river. I got another time check as some bells chimed 9 AM. About this time I noticed the wind suddenly kick up and along with it, the river. Since the wind was coming from behind me this gave me yet more of a speed boost, which I appreciated as I was starting to get a little tired. The tide was high enough to make the Boundary Channel navigable, however I chose to stick to the river so I could keep riding the wind and the small swells. Back at the marina, I could hear the excited voice of the race announcer over at the Pentagon, though I couldn't hear what he was saying. By that time, I imagined, runners were finishing the race.

The route I took on my drive home includes a section of road which looks down onto the Pentagon parking lot. Taking my eyes off the road for way too long, I was astounded at the size of the crowd at the race. The huge parking lot was jam-packed with thousand upon thousands of runners. As if that wasn't enough, I spotted a bald eagle circling over the Pentagon. Wow.

Anyway, I hadn’t brought my GPS with me, so when I went home I used the distance measuring tool of Google Maps to estimate the distance I paddled. It came out to almost exactly ten miles. In the midst of a much larger race, I guess I was a 10 Miler of One.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Numb skulls?

Sunday morning I went out for one of my typical early morning quick paddling jaunts: launch at Columbia Island and head up the river a ways. It's nice having a marina so close to home - early Sunday mornings it's under 15 minutes driveway to dockside.

Anyway, I noticed a lot of activity on the water as I headed past Georgetown. A number of crew launches out, and an endless stream of single person sculls heading up the river. Float markers everywhere. It turned out there was some sort of rowing regatta going on.

I made it up the river with no problem, but on the way back down I really felt like I was dodging traffic. I followed the DC shore to keep out of the lanes marked by the floats along the Virginia side, but that route had me crossing the sculls' launch trajectory and also put me right in the path of the maniacal racing canoes and kayaks from the Washington Canoe Club. Once south of Key Bridge I decided to get out of traffic by heading back over to the Virginia side and following the river side of Roosevelt Island. However, before I knew it a volunteer in a launch was telling me over a megaphone that I was in one of their lanes and had better get out of the way before the sculls got there.

I have no problem sharing the river and I love the fact that there's a whole community of paddling people who enjoy being out on the water. But part of me, I have to admit, was really annoyed at the way the regatta took over the river Sunday morning. I was out there for a relaxing early morning paddle but wound up feeling like I was trespassing. Please, rowing people, remember to share the river nicely with the rest of us!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tashlich by Kayak

The Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashonah is one of the major events in a season that focuses on repentance and introspection. At this time of year we ask for forgiveness for our sins and try to wipe the slate clean for the new year. One holiday ritual, dating back to at least the 15th century is that of Taslich, or "casting off". Taslich involves physically casting an item - typically some sort of bread - into a body of flowing water as a way of symbolically casting off sins. This ritual has its root in the following biblical passage:

G-d will have compassion on us,
and overcome our sins,
He will hurl all our sins
Into the depths of the sea.
(Micah 7:19)

I guess I shouldn't even have to mention the biblical connection. Judaism is a legalistic religion. Every word in the Torah is assumed to be there for a reason, and just about all of them are interpreted as some sort of commandment. Let me just say that if Genesis 2:2 read, "and on the seventh day, G-d had a cup of coffee then rested", then over the millennia Jews would have developed endless rituals and regulations about how to properly have a cup of coffee before the Sabbath: what is the minimum number of ounces required to be consumed? if one has a latte, which is mostly milk but is suffused with coffee flavor throughout, does that satisfy the commandment? Is the almighty telling us to drink decaf, as the cup of coffee is followed immediately by resting? Furthermore, Starbucks would have been started by a Jew ... oh, wait, it was. But I digress.

Anyway, being Reform Jews and therefore somewhat (well, quite) open to adapting traditions to suit our modern sensibilities, last year I created my own custom: taslich by kayak. Why cast away your sins from beside the water, I figured, when you could do it from on the water? After all, doesn't a kayak-based ritual get you closer to the "depths of the sea"? Last year was a success and so this year, after my turn on the beameh (pulpit) during morning services during which I had the honor of reading the blessings over the Haftorah portion, Teddy and I loaded up our boats and headed to Fletcher's boathouse, where we launched into the Potomac.

Teddy hadn't paddled in quite a while and so I wasn't sure how much paddling he was going to be able to do. On the one hand, he hadn't been in a kayak in about two years. On the other, he's grown into quite a strong young fellow. So I started out easy. We set out on a meandering trip down the river, pausing to sneak up on turtles and just float along - as well as to do our Taslich ceremony. I wasn't going to push him at all until at one point he said "what are we doing? I don't feel like I've gotten any exercise at all." That was my opening to step the paddle up a notch and so I suggested we head for Three Sisters Islands, a trip of a little under 2 miles from Fletcher's. We had the current with us and so made the trip pretty quickly.

Upon reaching Three Sisters we were greeted with an amazing sight. The river was so low that large swatches of dry land were peeking out of the water around the islands. It was like the parting of the Red Sea (oops, wrong Jewish Holiday reference). We later realized the water was shallow enough that one could walk among the three islands, which is not usually the case. Teddy beached his kayak on the first island and asked me to paddle alongside while he swam to the furthest island. Now, 70 degree water is a little cool for my taste for swimming, but perfect for Teddy, who is in many ways a penguin. He scrambled around the Southernmost island a bit and then I accompanied him back to his kayak. Now, while I may have referred to "dry land" above, in fact the exposed areas above water were really soft mud. Ted squooshed in up to his knees as he made his way back to his kayak, and with a flurry of mud we got under way.

As we started back I realized it had gotten late - and we were due at a friend's for dinner. We'd have to hurry if we wanted to make it back in time. I must say, Teddy came through! He paddled the two miles back at a very respectable speed with no breaks. Being unaccustomed to the upper body effort of kayaking, he was worn out by the time we got back to Fletcher's, but he did it! We squooshed through more mud at Fletcher's (the low river level exposed mud by the shoreline there too), tossed the boats back onto the car and headed home with Ted behind the wheel. We made it back quite a bit later than planned but were still only 15 minutes late for dinner. Not bad.

As for the ceremony itself, the ritual of Taslich is pretty minimal. There's no set liturgy. We used crackers to represent our sins - small objects to represent a perhaps large set of sins, but then again, think of how much data a memory stick can hold theses days. I recited the passage from Micah, put the crackers on my spray skirt and then put the kayak up on its side via a sculling brace. The crackers slid off and with them, symbolically, our sins for the year. If only it was so easy ...

Friday, September 11, 2009

On the Boardwalk for My Mother

I spent part of this past week up in New York for the sad event of my mother's funeral. She passed away Monday after a long period of illness. The funeral was held Tuesday, which therefore started the official mourning period. The rituals and restrictions associated with mourning in Judaism are many, particularly during the first week, or shivah period. If you follow all of the rules you're pretty well forced to spend the week focused on the grieving process, since you basically are discouraged from doing much else. You're prohibited by tradition from leaving the house, bathing, shaving, engaging in any form of entertainment, wearing leather shoes (I have no idea why), and more. However, Reform Jews do some picking and choosing from among these rules. I refrained from wearing leather shoes for the first three days (said to be the most intense part of shivah), won't shave for the week, and am avoiding TV and radio, but I have left the house. In fact, I drove home from New York on day three - with the radio/iPod off, of course. My brother and I joked that it would be hard for him to adhere to the restriction on attending entertainment (which some people continue for up to a year) as he is by a Broadway musician by trade.

What does this have to do with an outdoors blog? Well, the morning after the funeral I found myself in my hotel room in Sheepshead Bay wondering if going running was acceptable within my personal set of shivah rules. Drawing upon the concept that applies throughout Jewish law that health takes precedence over all required observances, I decided it was. I further decided that I'd go running on the boardwalk at Brighton Beach as a tribute to my mother, as she loved the boardwalk - so much so that she and my father retired to Brighton in order to be able to stroll the boardwalk and enjoy the ocean. It had been years since she'd been able to make it the 3 blocks from her house to the beach, so I was making this visit for her.

Coming from the sleepy and straight-laced Northern Virginia suburbs, I'm always struck by the variety and quantity of life in Brooklyn. I hit the boardwalk about 7 AM by which point it was pretty crowded with people. Russian senior citizens strolling and young hispanic teens hanging out. I passed a couple of people doing strange calisthenics - things they must have learned in Soviet schools, or in mental institutions, or perhaps Soviet mental institutions. There was the guy standing in one spot wiggling his whole body like JelloTM. There was the fellow high stepping down the boardwalk like a storm trooper on ecstasy. A young Orthodox Jewish woman jogging, decked out in properly modest Orthodox attire. An older man in white support hose and bright green shorts: equal parts Gorbachev and leprechaun.

I ran from Brighton to Coney Island and back, about 30 minutes total. At the end of my run I took my shoes off and walked down the beach to the ocean. As I did some cooldown stretches by the water's edge, I noticed that there were some swimmers in the water on this cool, grey September morning. The beach maintenance guys were still out with their heavy equipment finishing their daily sifting of the sand. For some reason there were paramedics about.

My mother always reveled in the eccentricities of Brooklyn. I don't think she would have minded my morning run at all - in fact I like to think she was along with me that morning.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Walking Meditation and Mellow Rock Gardening

On Saturday I led a meditation walk for a group from my temple. I have for some time been interested in the intersection between my love of the outdoors and my religious beliefs. I’ve also been involved with a Jewish meditation group, which in some cases draws upon kabbalistic tradition and in others outright appropriates or invents other ideas to create a Jewish meditation practice. I decided to combine all of these and do a Jewish walking meditation. Again, I didn’t invent this particular mash-up; I drew heavily on the writings of Rabbis Mike Comins, Jamie Korngold and Jeff Roth.

Nine people bet against the forecast of thunderstorms and showed up for the event (a winning bet, it turned out - the afternoon was unexpectedly sunny). After having a chance to ooh and ahh over a hickory horned devil caterpillar a ranger had just caught, our group off down a trail in River Bend Park alongside the Potomac to explore various meditative approaches – walking and stationary. I will not detail all what we did on our meditative shpatzir here. Rather, I’ll say that I was nervous about whether people were enjoying this (which was messing with my mindful awareness) until we got to a stopping point along the trail where we did some seated practices then shared a bit of how it was going. Listening and watching, I realized that not only were people into it, they were so into it that no one wanted to leave the beautiful spot we had chosen for our stop. The same thing happened when we sat down at some picnic tables at the end of our walk. After the silence of the walk, people were eager to talk and we wound up spending some time just lounging around by the river chatting. I certainly had no problem with this – lounging on and around rivers is one of my favorite activities.

Finally, people got on their way, leaving my friend David and to hit the river. While David and I had long known about each others interest in kayaking, we had never paddled together before. We put in at the boat ramp and headed upstream. Unfortunately you can’t get very far upriver before you start to run into riffles and rocks – not the ideal situation for a sea kayak. Still, we gamely explored various paths up the little rapids, ultimately successfully making our way further upstream. While the conditions on this section of the river are rocky, the views are awesome and further enhanced my enjoyment of the day. The meditation event had lasted longer than I expected (not that I'm complaining) and so I was somewhat time-limited on the water. So, after a little more exploration we turned around and let the current shoot us back downstream to the put-in.

As always, the drive along Georgetown Pike back to the Beltway was twisty fun. And I always wonder as I drive past the mega-houses that line the road – who is it who owns these multi-multi-million dollar things, who could possibly use so much square footage, at what size does a house just become irresponsibly large, …. and how can I get one?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Saturday AM, Mason Neck

4 AM, raging thunderstorm. Feels good to be safe and sound in bed, but my paddling plans are at risk. 6 AM, light rain. Beginning to think of bagging paddling and working out on the erg instead, but I go downstairs and check the weather online - hmmm, looks like there's going to be a break in the weather. 7:15 AM, load the boat. The sky is clearing a little. 8:03 AM, pass through the gate at Mason Neck State Park just after the park opens. Unload and get on the water a little after 8:30.

It's beautiful out. Not too hot. A little foggy/hazy, the kind of mist that makes things seem a little unreal. I say a prayer of thanks for being able to experience this scene. As I paddle the water is like glass. The iffy weather has scared most people off for the day - there are a few fishermen out and a handful of recreational motor boaters, but other than that, the river is mine. I paddle around out of Belmont Bay and into the river, the paddle north a ways. The slightly foggy weather seems to be encouraging the birds to stay out and hunt a little later than usual. In fact, eagles are out in force! It's a mere twelve minutes after launching when I spot my first eagle (a mature bald) and in total I have six separate eagle sightings, both mature and immature plumage. I'm not sure, though, whether I saw six different eagles (I'm guessing it was three).

After an hour or so I turn around and head back. As I come around the point back into the bay (and, interestingly, cross the Virginia/Maryland State Line), I startle some ospreys. They're noisy birds, particularly when defending their territory, and so my entry into their space causes them to let loose a cacophony of sound. For some reason this strikes me as funny and I wind up sitting there laughing out loud for a little while before paddling on.

I come upon a motorboat anchored near shore. Two little girls are playing in the water. They say "hi" and show me a trick they're doing with a stick in the water. We talk for a few moments.

At one of the beach areas along the Mason Neck shore I stop and practice some rolls. The session I did with Dave last week really helped. I haven't been comfortable before rolling the Shearwater, so I was happy to discover that this time I was doing it pretty cleanly. It'll be even better once I get the enhanced thigh braces built and fitted.

Finally, I laze my way back to the put-in. I'm eager to see how much water there is in the hatches. Yesterday I put new gasket material on both hatches in an attempt to fix the insane leakiness of these hatches. The result? 50% success. The forward hatch was almost completely dry - maybe a 1/4 cup of water in it. The rear hatch, though, was still a problem. Better than before, but there was at least a gallon in there. Hmmm, back to the drawing board.

After getting off the water and changing into dry clothes I hiked a couple of the trails at the park - about 1.8 mi in all - to scope them out as a locale for my upcoming meditation walk. Then I went on my way. Great morning at the park.

Bermuda Snorkeling

We just took a family vacation: a cruise to Bermuda. This was the first cruise for all of us except Valerie, who had gone on one as a child. Overall it was a nice time, though Valerie had some trouble dealing with the motion of the ship.

One of our days in Bermuda we booked a sailing/snorkeling expedition aboard the catamaran "Restless Native". Alas, the wind was calm and so we would up motoring rather than sailing. The silver lining of that circumstance was that since we didn't spend time cruising the island under sail, we had more time for snorkeling. The boat took us to a protected, shallow beach near a small coral reef. We all grabbed masks and snorkels and down the ladder we went into the water. I started seeing fish right away, as did the boys. Valerie, however, struggled with her mask - it was fogging, and leaking - and so it was a while before she got into the fish-watching.

I enjoy snorkeling - floating along looking at the fish, and even more so the coral, which seems otherworldly. I must admit, though, I hate the snorkel mouthpiece and have to spit it out every once in a while and take a break at the surface.

I think David had the best time of all of us, as he was not only looking at the sea life but also taking pictures (I have a waterproof camera). We had to push him along at the end so as not to hold up the boat, because he was so caught up in the activity.

Back on board the Restless Native, we all (well, the adults) had rum swizzles, a Bermudian drink.
The weather clouded over and it started to rain pretty heavily, sending most people running for the cabin. People have a funny attitude about getting wet. In this case a bunch of people, still damp and in their bathing suits from snorkeling, still felt the need to take shelter from the rain. Well, from my perspective they were welcome to huddle down below. The few of us who stayed up in the hammocks had room to stretch out, good conversation, and enjoyed being cooled off by a warm summer rain.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Fitting out the Woodie, Part I

There was once a book (or was it a play?) called something like, “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.” Such is the story of my new kayak, a CLC Shearwater. I’ve been in love with this kayak since I first paddled one, and the one I picked up recently from a guy in Massachusetts immediately became my favorite boat. Still, a wood boat cries out for custom outfitting, particularly since the guy who built this one had fitted it out for his 6’ 4” frame (not my height!) and with a bias towards form over function (for example, no deck lines). So, while I’m enjoying paddling it as-is, I’m slowly modifying it to my tastes. So far I’ve added forward deck lines: bungies and perimeter grab-lines. I ripped out the NRS seat pad he had put in (what did he glue that thing in with???) and put in a thicker, more contoured seat with some hip pads. This seat is more comfortable, plus the inch or so of added height gives me better layback clearance for rolling. Currently I’m fabricating some thigh braces. The boat originally had them, but the builder cut them out in an attempt to create more room for himself in the boat. Sad to say, the thigh braces I’m making look pretty bad so far. I’m not the world’s most skilled fiberglass/epoxy worker and there are some bubbles, drips, and the coat is uneven. They’re structurally fine and I expect the appearance will shape up with some sanding and another coat of epoxy. If not, I might opt to put a coat of marine black paint on them.

Still on the “To Do” list for the boat: adding a day hatch, which will entail re-doing the rear deck lines, perhaps adding a deck-mounted compass, and (this may wait for winter), adding a skeg. Each step is making an already perfect boat better.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lake Anna Family Campout

About once per year I convince the family to go camping. That’s long enough for them to forget the details of the last trip, and so they agree. Actually, Ted would camp every weekend, particularly if he got to drive to the campground. It’s Valerie and David who need convincing – anyplace without WiFi or A/C is indistinguishable from Guantanamo Bay in their eyes. This year we headed for Lake Anna State Park. The park added camping just a few years ago, and it’s quite nice campground – large sites, clean bathhouses, lots of trees. As a compromise we booked in a camper cabin rather than a tent site. That way Valerie would have a somewhat real bed and a ceiling fan.

The ride down was a challenge. We hit enormous traffic. The drive, which is under 100 miles, took over four hours. I was coming down with a cold and started to get really tired in the stop-and-go traffic. Valerie took over driving and I promptly fell asleep for the rest of the ride down I95 – good thing, actually, since I think it helped my energy level for the rest of the weekend. Checking in was easy; dinner was a feast of hot dogs and chips. Ted and I took a walk in the dark down to the lake – really pretty. Friday night I slept like a log. Valerie, deprived of her Tempurpedic mattress and air conditioning, tossed and turned.

Saturday AM I got up somewhat early, despite my cold, and hit the lake for about an hour of paddling. I came back to the campsite to – surprisingly – find everyone awake and waiting for breakfast (most of our supplies were in the car, with me). Teddy cooked pancakes “Scout Style”. I think these were, in fact, “Ted Style”, meaning that rather than make normal size pancakes he made the huge, pan-sized pancakes. I think he likes the novelty of making such huge pancakes, but in fact it’s hard to get them fully and evenly cooked. Still, who can complain about his eagerness to cook breakfast? I drew cleanup duty, which included scrubbing the “Ted Style” mess out of the pan and prep dishes. We spent the rest of the day at the lake. Having grown up going to ocean beaches, I still maintain that lake beaches aren’t “real” beaches, but over time I have grown to appreciate the relaxation of not having to worry about the kids, because there are no waves, no sea creatures and no undertow. In the late afternoon we headed back to the campsite. D & V hung out while Ted and I nabbed a couple of geocaches located a short walk from the campground. We also kept passing by a site near ours that was stuffed with 20-somethings having a grand old time (not too wild) on a group campout. I told Ted, “this could be you and your friends in a couple of years.” He likes envisioning that sort of thing – his grown-up future. Saturday night we had an enormous campfire, again courtesy of Ted. S’mores were made, of course.

Sunday morning I got up even earlier, so I could get my morning paddle in without keeping the rest of the family waiting. Another nice hour-long paddle, plus some bracing practice. This time I was back just as everyone was waking up – well, Valerie claimed never to have fallen asleep the whole night, but in fact she must have dozed off for at least a few minutes since she was just waking up when I got back to the cabin. Then we packed up and hit the road – with Ted behind the wheel on the twisty roads leading back to I95. I thought he id OK, except for drifting off the road here and there, but by the time we pulled into the Thornburg McDonalds, Valerie was at her wits end. That was the end of Ted’s driving for the day.

Was it a successful trip? By our family’s standards, I’d say so. Yeah, there was some friction here and there, but overall we had a good time, particularly when we were down at the lake. Now I’ve got to wait a year for them to forget so I can suggest it again.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Après moi, le déluge

It seems like virtually every Summer evening in the Washington area has the same forecast - warm and humid with a chance of thunderstorms. As a result, we spend a lot of time before launching debating the wisdom of going out and, these days, checking the latest forecast on someone's iPhone. This past Thursday was no exception. In fact, as we arrived at the marina it was thundering, but the storm soon passed and the iPhone indicated that the system was moving out of our area. So, we launched as usual. The paddle up the river was beautiful and as is so often the case, we congratulated ourselves on making the right decision and having a splendid evening rather than running from the specter of showers. Then it start raining.

A few sprinkles at first, coming, of course when we had already paddled quite a ways up from Columbia Island. Sprinkles soon turned into a downpour and our group took shelter under Key Bridge waiting for it to pass. Which it didn't. "It's only rain," we figured, and so pressed on, heading back down the river between Roosevelt Island and Virginia. The rain was drenching, but it was kind of fun, to tell you the truth. Then the lightening started.

I hate lightning when I'm out on the water. I was immediately reminded of the warning I had read on my Blackberry the previous weekend as I was anxiously checking the weather while stuck in a tent in the middle of an open field during a thunderstorm. "Remember," it said, "lightning is one of nature's most serious killers. Seek shelter immediately." Well, shelter was a few miles back down the river, so we pressed on. We took another break under Memorial Bridge, hoping the storm would blow by. It didn't. So, with lightning getting ever closer, we pressed on. When I began to see the bolts hitting DC not far off to our left, I shifted into an overdrive I didn't know I had. Boy, I wish I had had my GPS with me to log my speed, because I think I was paddling pretty fast. We all paddled pretty hard back to the marina, then quickly loaded our boats in the slightly slackening rain.

So, what comes next? Seeking shelter, perhaps? No way! Not when there's a whole potluck to be consumed. The storm seemed to be starting to move away, so we all gathered under the canopy at the marina's by-now closed snack bar (yes, under a big metal frame) to shoot the breeze and eat. I did have some visions of headlines in my head: "local kayakers electrocuted at marina", but as I said, the storm seemed to be moving away, so I took the chance. A glass of wine, some excellent cheese, and a little while later, all was well. The lightning flashes were off in the distance, the sangiovese was delicious, and a good time was being had by all. Perhaps the close call we had just had made things even a little tastier, a little more alive.

The forecast for this coming Thursday? Warm and humid with a chance of thunderstorms. We'll see what happens ...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Wooden Boat Wooden Boat Wooden Boat

It's here. I picked it up in Connecticut. It paddles beautifully. More later.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Over the river, not through the woods

Decided to check out the new bike path over the Wilson Bridge today. It rocks! They were even nice enough to build in some overlooks where you can pull out of the main bike path and look out over the river through built-in binoculars.

I started at Gravely Point and headed down the river to Alexandria. When I get to Old Town I'm never sure if I'm still on the bike path or not, but it doesn't matter. I just keep heading South. This time I would up on a block I hadn't been before, where I went through this weird little tunnel that took me back to Washington St and the entrance to the bridge path.

It's interesting - the Virginia side of the bike path is at the South end of Old Town, which is a very nice, colonial era town. The path entrance is itself, however unremarkable. The Maryland side of the bridge, on the other hand, is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but has this beautiful landscaping. That seems backwards to me, but maybe they just had more room to work with on the Maryland side.

Anyhoo, once on the MD side I rode down the crushed shell bike path to National Harbor I spent some time looking out over the river. It being early Sunday morning, nothing was open. Like a rule-following fool, I walked my bike through the deserted National Harbor area because the sign said to. A couple of other cyclists rode past me while I was doing this. As far as I can tell they weren't ticketed or arrested. Anarchists. Hoodlums.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Don't cry for me Pasadena

After saying goodbye to Ted this morning - he's off to Boy Scout camp - I headed out to Ft. Smallwood Park in Pasadena, MD to do some kayaking on the Bay. I carpoooled up there with my friend Tom. That always adds to the experience, both because Tom's a nice guy and because he literally strokes the dashboard of his well-worn Saturn station wagon to coax it to keep going for one ... more ... trip.

The launch site for this trip is a new one - well, at least kayak access is. Our trip organizer, Gina, lives nearby and wanted to introduce folks to this new launch. Sixteen of us in total, from all directions, showed up, and no one but Gina had been there before. I'd say Ft. Smallwood's kayak launch coming out party was a success.

The conditions were choppier than predicted. 1-2 foot waves, and quite confused in places, making it hard at times to maintain direction. I guess this was a result of a combination of wind, boat wakes and tidal currents, as the wind wasn't strong enough to have caused this much chop. Whatever the source, it was a good opportunity for me to get some practice in slightly heavier waters.

We started out juct about at the confluence of the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay, paddled up the Patapsco a bit and then into some creeks. This isn't a pristine rural area - the shorelines are developed (with neat little cottages!), and you're never out of site of the smokestacks from an electrical plant and a steel mill - plus Baltimore. There was plenty of boat traffic, including a steady stream of cigarrette boats. Still, it's always great to be out on the Bay. Perhaps my favorite part was poking up some creeks and discovering some marinas stocked with old boats - some being restored, some simply decaying in place, some scuttled.

12.1 miles total.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sunday Morning Loop

Sunday morning I woke up early as usual. It was a beautiful day and I knew it would be several hours before the rest of the family woke up. Kayak? Boy, I wished I had loaded the boat on top of the car the night before, as I was feeling just a little too lazy to deal with it right at the moment. Besides, the overhead of a paddling trip - loading, driving to the river, driving home, unloading - would take more time than I felt like investing in the morning's outing. I decided to have breakfast, read the paper and think up an alternate plan.

How about biking? Well, that would have a lot of the same overhead -- but wait, there's a bike trail two blocks from my house! And I've heard that the county has built a new connector trail from the terminus of my local trail to the Mt. Vernon trail. I decide that the W&OD / Mt. Vernon / Custis Trail loop is exactly what I the doctor ordered and in a few minutes I'm out the door. It's 7:10 AM.

The first 4.5 miles of the ride are familiar ground, as this is my usual running / biking / walking turf, and pleasantly downhill ground to boot. When I get to the bottom of the W&OD trail in Shirlington, sure enough, there's a sign for the new connector trail. Let me tell you, this new trail is a great thing. Connecting between the W&OD and Mt. Vernon trails used to mean riding through the streets in a somewhat ugly neighborhood and for me, inevitably getting lost. Now it's smooth sailing. Exit the W&OD, turn right, turn left at the Weenie Beanie, go around the Exxon and you're golden.

The Mt. Vernon trail has always been my favorite section of this loop. It takes you right along the river, alongside National Airport (that's Reagan National for all you friends of Ronnie, or DCA for you ATC types) and past some of my local kayaking put-ins. I took a break at Graveley Point Park, which has the dually cool location of being on the Potomac in sight of all the monuments and unbelievably close to the north end of the main runway at National. The spot is a popular local attraction just because of the experience of hearing/feeling/seeing the planes take off. It's really loud, they're really low, and it's great fun. I had the foresight to bring a small thermos of coffee. So I plop down at a picnic table by the water's edge (a little off the flight line) and relax with my coffee.

Much as I hate to leave that spot, I get going again after a bit and face the icky part of the ride - the undulating hills along the Custis Trail from the river back up to my house. Up and down. Up and Down. Up and Down. Up over Lee Highway and down. Up over I66 and down. Up for no apparent reason and down. The granny gears become my friends.

I get home a bit after 9. As expected the rest of the family is just getting going. In summary: 18 miles, exploration of a new trail, and a good cup of coffee in a striking spot.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Long Overdue Asheville Report

Sometimes you just have to do something that doesn’t make sense. So when my friend Zgrav suggested driving nine hours to Asheville, North Carolina to go geocaching, I said, “heck, yeah!” Before I continue, a little background on the sport. Geocaching is a GPS-assisted treasure hunting game. You use your GPS to guide you to a spots where people have hidden little “caches” – containers ranging in size from pinky-tip up to briefcase size. The real point of the game is in the hunting rather than the finding – sort of like catch-and-release fishing. Geocaches each carry a two dimensional rating –difficulty and terrain – as to how hard they are to find. The easiest ones you can drive right up to. At the opposite extreme, there are geocaches that require solving hard puzzles, use of a specialized gear (helicopters, free-climbing, SCUBA) and a host of other challenges. The most challenging cache level is 5/5. Asheville is overall something of a caching mecca, and is home to a couple of 5/5 caches that were reputed to be outstanding. These 5/5’s were Zgrav’s targets. Ted and I had never done a 5/5 before, and we were eager to join in.

I picked Ted up early from school on Thursday and we got right on the road. The drive down seemed very long and somewhere along I81 I started to question the wisdom of the trip. My spirits sank even further when we stopped to take a break at Harrisonburg. I chose this spot to take a break because James Madison University is there and I want to slowly begin introducing Ted to colleges. It was a beautiful afternoon, and we took a nice stroll around the JMU campus. The only problem is that we, of course, wanted to pick up a few quick geocache finds while we were there. Unfortunately, the location of the first cache we tried was mobbed with people going on tours of the campus (that’ll be us soon enough). The second one stumped us, and we were chased away from the third one by campus police when we were just 40 feet away from grabbing it. Dejected, we grabbed a Frappucino at the campus Starbucks and hit the highway to finish our drive.

We had arranged to meet Zgrav and 4EverYoungs (I should explain that I’m using people’s geocaching names rather than their real names here) for breakfast the next morning at the local IHOP. Ted and I strolled in pretty well rested. The two of them had left later Thursday and had driven through the night to get to Asheville and so were pretty tired. We were also joined by Bubba Q Jack, who had made the trip as well and Asheville caching legend Ozguff. We lingered too long over breakfast before (after picking up a quick cache right in the IHOP parking lot) heading out to start our first 5/5, called “Toobe TTorcher II”. [Note that throughout this log I have intentionally misspelled the cache names so that future seekers of these caches cannot easily find the information I have provided here – which might spoil some of the fun for them]

Geocaches are listed online at site called, naturally, Geocaching.com. The cache hider provides some description of the cache, and each person who logs it can add information as well. From reading the cache description and logs we figured we’d be spending time in water tunnels and that it would be a tough slog. Here’s the list of items recommended for folks attempting the cache: “FIRST AID KIT, Good detailed topo/road map of area or maps on GPS, At least two good flashlights with extra batteries (hands-free headlights are best), Climbing harness with a short length of GOOD safety rope/webbing and at least one carabineer. (If you are in good shape, or an experienced climber and not afraid of heights you may not need this item—but we recommend it for safety.), Old, warm clothes and shoes/boots that you don’t mind getting dirty/wet/torn, A GOOD pair of gloves, rubber boots – Optional, Kneepads HIGHLY recommended, Notepad and pen, and a camera (you’ll wish you had it!).” Ooof.

I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say we saw a lot of the inside of Asheville’s stormwater management system. We quickly figured out that each stage of the cache (and there were many) contained clues to finding later stages. Ozguff accompanied us to the first stage of the cache, where we picked up a multi-page packet that you used to fill in information from each stage as you went along. Actually, since we took the last packet, we made a quick detour to a Staples and made some more copies to restock Stage 1 before attacking the next stage – cachers are generally pretty good about maintaining each other’s caches. The first “real” stage found us crawling through some pretty tight corrugated metal pipes looking for the next clue. Each stage got progressively harder and more interesting. There were tiny tunnels to crawl through and big tunnels you could have driven through. There was darkness. And, of course, water. I had my neoprene boots on, which kept my feet dry. The others, in hiking boots, resigned themselves to wet feet.

After 7-8 hours of this, we realized we needed to quit for the day, since we had another 5/5 to take on that night. So we did a quick scoping of the next stage, then headed back to our hotels for a quick break before heading to “Athena’s KKurse.” Ted and I got lost trying to find our way back to a Panera we had passed earlier (yes, we had a GPS receiver) and settled for dinner at Burger King for the second night in a row, then headed further south.

There are certain geocaches that can only be done at night. Athena’s KKurse is one of these, and it’s another 5/5 to boot. The cache is located in rural southern North Carolina (not far from northern South Carolina) on, and this is unusual, the expansive private property of the cache owner, Shymntmn. You have to get his permission before taking on the cache, and he keeps a sharp eye out as you roam his property. A bunch of us (not just Zgrav, 4EverYoungs, Ted and me, but also Bubba Q, Reedkickball and a few other caching friends) met up at the listed coordinates at about 8:30. By 9 PM it was dark and we started our search. Some other local North Carolina cachers who had previously done this cache turned out to see us off – mostly they were just heckling us as we looked for the first stage, and happily they left us soon thereafter. Shymntmn was also there to get us started. He was a really nice guy, and turned up spookily throughout the night to help keep us on the right track. Whenever our group seemed stumped, we’d suddenly smell cigar smoke and Shymntmn would appear out of nowhere, cigar in hand to give us little hints in his clipped German accent. After a while we realized he was using an ATV and a different set of trails to get from stage to stage.

We couldn’t have picked a better night. It was perfectly clear and the stars were out in force. The night hike would have been worth it even without the cache, and the cache would have been worth it even in the worst weather. But to do this cache on a nice night – perfect. Again, I will not spoil the cache by describing any of its many stages. I will only say that Shymntmn invested considerable time and money in this cache. Going way up in the air, using multiple wavelengths of light, codes aplenty, hidden items, and more. Each stage would have been a memorable experience on its own. As with Toobe TTorcher, you had to gather information as you went along, and once again I took on the job of scribe, to make sure we got everything recorded correctly. The entire experience took about six hours. Six incredible hours doing the weirdest things in the woods in the middle of the night. We staggered back to our cars some time after 3 AM, exhausted and happy, having successfully completed the cache. How I made the 45 minute drive back to Asheville I don’t know. Ted and I plopped into bed about 4 AM.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t sleep in the next morning, for we had arranged to meet up with Zgrav and 4EverYoungs to continue our pursuit of Toobe TTorcher. When the four of us met up again, Ted and I looked a little haggard. The other guys, now operating on two nights of virtually no sleep, looked even worse. Undaunted, we picked up where we left off. We had figured out that we could save some crawling if we managed to pull up a storm drain grate on the entry road to a local big box store and drop into the middle of a storm drain rather than crawling up all the way from the end. Zgrav and I took advantage of a break in the flow of traffic and managed to yank up the grate (they’re heavy!). We dropped 4EverYoungs down the hole, then quickly put the grate back. Zgrav, Ted and I then positioned ourselves at various storm drain grating along the way so we could keep track of our teammate. What people must have thought of us as we talked into the storm drains I don’t know, but fortunately, Asheville is a pretty offbeat place – I guess they had all seen oddball behavior before.

Once again, we spent all day crawling through the Asheville underground, finding strange glyphs on the tunnel walls, doing more “duck-walking” than I care to think about, missing some clues but using our smarts to figure them out, finding new accesses to stages because new construction had changed the old one, until the final clue led us to … the middle of the street at a new suburban-urban center?! We were flummoxed. This locale didn’t fit anything else we had seen along the way, and certainly didn’t seem like the right final location for a 5/5 cache. We searched every square inch of the place – again, we must have looked a sight, all grubby from a day of subterranean exploration – but couldn’t find anything. We retreated back to our cars, where we reviewed our data. Still nothing. We were starting to lose our light as well. Finally we broke down and called Ozguff. By coincidence, we were in his neighborhood. He said he’d come down and meet us and was there in a flash. Taking a look at our data, he surmised we had transposed two digits in one of the latitude/longitude numbers. Something had actually seemed strange to us about this earlier, but again, there was new construction in a spot such that we had become convinced we were heading the wrong way when in fact we were close to the final stage. Ozguff accompanied us to the final stage, where we happily logged our triumph of having completed our second 5/5 cache of the weekend. Ironically, on the way back to the car I slipped while crossing some deep water and got my feet wet – after two days of keeping them totally dry while slogging endlessly through water.

Again, Zgrav, 4EverYoungs, Ted and I retreated to our hotels and cleaned up. Zgrav used to live in Asheville and we met up and went out for dinner at a funky pizza place near the university. We were all feeling a combination of exhilaration, exhaustion, and hunger. We wolfed down a couple of excellent pizzas and some beer (well, not Ted) in celebration.

I have always wanted to visit Asheville, but on this trip so far I had seen mostly the insides of the public works, so I vowed that on Sunday Ted and I were going to do some sight-seeing before heading out. Unfortunately, we awoke to a steady rain on Sunday so our sightseeing was cut short. We drove around downtown a bit (yes, we found a few easy geocaches), visited the botanical gardens (again, to log a cache), had lunch at a surprisingly good Mexican restaurant, then headed for home.

Some day I must get back to Asheville and see the normal sights.

Note: This trip took place in mid-April. Two months later, no one else has logged Toobe TTorcher. It's a tough one.

Outrunning the Quiet Storm

It's been a rainy week. Not just the usual Washington summer afternoon thunderstorms, but heavy downpours 5 AM thunderstorms, flash flood warnings, the works. So it was with a severe weather watch in place and some trepidation that I headed down to Columbia Island last night. The consoling factor was that I had checked the weather report right before heading out from work, and the skies looked like they would be largely clear until about 9 PM.

My friend Dave has a new fixation with doing yoga warmups before paddling. I think he has been influenced by both Dubside and our friend Gina, who is a yoga instructor in addition to being a paddler. Interestingly, I had been thinking just the day before, when doing my 20 minutes of stretching before my 40 minute run, that it's funny that I stretch so much for running and erg-ing, but not at all for kayaking. So, when Dave suggested yoga, I was happy to take part. We must have been quite a sight, about half a dozen of us going through various asanas on the grass at the marina, while getting dampened by a light sprinkle of rain.

The weather held and the trip was spectacular. The birds were out (kingfishers, wood ducks, night and blue herons). When we got up to Georgetown the water was filled with crew shells practicing. It was just a wonderful feeling - all the hustle and bustle on the river. Six-person shells, singles, racing canoes, our group of eight. It felt like a secret society of the river, with all of us out enjoying the evening in our people-powered boats, with nary a powerboat in sight. The water is still a little cool and the rain had washed all sorts of chunky stuff into it, so I held off from rolling (the brown chunkiness of the water didn't stop Dave and Nelson, though).

As we started to head back the wind picked up. Leery that this meant the forecast severe thunderstorms were imminenty, I picked up my pace and pushed back to the marina at a more rapid clip. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. The weather was still fine when we got back, which gave us a chance to spread out and have our potluck as planned - a fine spread of cheeses, dolma, veggies, hummus, bulgar salad, fruit tart, chocolate babka, and more. Being National Park Service property, I am certain that we did not drink wine. Just a rather large juicebox of grape juice.

I arrived home stuffed and happy.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mindfull vs. ... unmindful? mindless?

Last weekend I went hiking with Ted at theBull Run Nature Conservancy. As usual, our hike had several purposes. Of course, there's the basic enjoyment of hiking. But Ted is also training for a week-long Scout backpacking trip in July and is trying to do as much hiking as possible in preparation. Needless to say, we were on the trail of a geocache as well. I had already found this one, but Ted hadn't.

As we hiked, I decided to try out a mindfulness technique I had read about in the book "A Wild Faith". What you do is bring your concentration into the moment by focusing on various things, first in succession, then sharing your attention among them. The feel of the soles of your feet as you walk. The appearance of the forest around you. Your breath. I find I can maintain this combined focus for only brief periods, but during those periods I'm very much in the moment. Then the monkey mind kicks in again and I start to wander off into thought. Another thing about doing this kind of mindfulness practice is that it doesn't leave much room for conversation. So, while I did it we hiked silently, which is fine - but it would be hard to maintain for a long time or with a larger group. I enjoyed the exercise.

Today, in contrast, I had a very unmindful kayak trip. I got to Occoquan Park early before the Chesapeake Paddlers Associations Gear Day, so I hit the water for a while. It was a pretty morning, but I kept getting very lost in thought about other things - primarily financial things, which I guess are a preoccupation for everyone these days. Every once in a while I'd wake up and realize I was in the middle of this gorgeous kayak trip, then I'd zone out back into my thoughts. I think I have to figure out a kayaking mindfulness technique. The only thing that really sort of served that purpose today was when I was focusing on my stroke. A focus on paddling form keeps you in the moment in its own way. Applying tips learned from various paddling experts. Watching the speed indicator on the GPS as you fine tune the stroke. Adjusting the blade angle and entry to avoid splashes. Checking for torso rotation. Focused. Moving faster. Yes.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Eight Foot Wilderness

There’s a corner of my garden that’s wild. This little spot bursts forth with such savage lushness that walking through it one half expects to come face to face with a tiger.

I must explain the peculiar fact the spot I’m describing is neither large nor remote. In fact the deepest depths of the savage corner are maybe six feet from the house. It’s just that the lay of the house and plantings have created an isolated tiny wilderness. To get there from the front of the house, go past the dogwood on the front lawn, turn left at the tea roses that flourish despite my neglect of them, and then squeeze between the sycamore and the boxwoods. As you emerge from the shrubs, you’ll find yourself in a spot so overgrown with so many plants it takes your breath away. Ivy, Virginia creeper, and thorny things and wild weeds I can’t even identify. It’s as if the local flora developed a master plan for the neighborhood and zoned this petite square to return to nature. A couple of times per year I go back there and cut everything back, but for most of the summer it’s my own private little jungle.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bike to/Walk home from Work Day

OK, I didn't bike to work on Bike to Work Day, but I had an excuse. Really. I biked to work on Tuesday, which was quite pleasant. I have finally settled on a favorite route and outside of some unpredictability due to construction in Tysons Corner (for example, about 50 feet of sidewalk disappeared between my morning and afternoon commutes), it's a pretty smooth ride.

Then came the ride home. I made it through the traffic of Tysons with few problems, then the bumpiness of Gallows Road. When I reached the bike trail that takes me the rest of the way home, I breathed a sigh of relief.

A little ways later I heard a sudden Bang, like a firecracker had gone off under my bike. I stopped immediately, and at first I thought it might have been a joke - maybe someone scattered those pressure-sensitive caps on the trail - since my front tire was fine. Then I realized my rear tire was massively blown.

Hmmm, four miles from home. No one to call. Got the bike with me, plus laptop and clothes. What to do? Wait? Walk? I wound up walking four miles home with the bike. Ow. To society's credit, I will say that two people did stop to offer help. Unfortunately, neither of them had a tube that would fit my bike.

So, my bike was out of commission for Bike to Work Day. Instead, I celebrated Buy New Super Durable Tires and Tubes So I Can Bike to Work in the Future Day.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Choppy Evening

A choppy evening on the Potomac tonight. There was a steady wind, creating a continuous wave train. The waves were only about a foot peak to trough. This is high enough to be fun, but not at all out of control. We banged our way South and around the bend into Washington Channel. Then we turned around and surfed the waves back.

Oh, how I have a love-hate relationship with surfing following waves. I hate the crazy out of control feeling of skidding as a wave picks up the back of the boat and makes it try to catch up with the front. Oh, how I love the feeling of riding a wave, paddling hard to keep on top of it, being propelled along faster and faster.

We got off the water just in time. As we were loading our gear it started to rain, and lightning arrived soon thereafter. Washington Summer is on its way.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Eat, Pray, Dub

When the opportunity to take a master class with Dubside came up, I jumped on it. What was he going to teach? What were the details? It didn't matter. Dubside is one of the masters of traditional Greenland-style kayaking, one of the few Americans to have competed in the Kayak Championship competitions in Greenland. I mean, you really should see this guy do a Kinnguffik paarlallugu/nerfallaallugu (Greenlandic for "coming up on the other side, on one's back"). Plus, he's a little bit of a character - kind of like a mystical shaman of the kayaking world. He has no fixed address. He dresses all in black. Even his kayak and kayaking gear are black. He has the kind of long, wild beard one would expect a mystic to have. He doesn't own a car and so paddles a folding kayak, which he schleps around on public transportation. And of course, he has only one name ... Dubside.

My kayaking pal Jen, who lives around the corner from me and I *for once* managed to coordinate car-pooling (we usually meet up at launch points and say "oh, we should have car-pooled"). We threw the boats on the car first thing in the morning and headed down to Mason Neck. We got there on time only to find most everyone else already there, so we hustled our gear down to the launch and hurried over to join the gang.

The day started with some talk about traditional kayaking and some stretches. In addition to the quirks already noted, it appears that Dubside has had his skeleton surgically removed, since he has some unbelievable flexibility. All thanks to yoga, he says. We all worked to emulate some bit of his flexibility, then we got on the water.

It was a pretty windy morning. There was significant chop in Belmont Bay, which meant we got a chance to practice under rough water conditions as we learned to fine tune our strokes and braces. I was a little dismayed to find my dry suit leaking a little at one wrist; this is something I'm going to have to investigate. I did my best to ignore the trickle of water slowly soaking my right arm and joined the group in surfing the waves back into Kane's Creek where it was calmer, but - as usual - quite shallow. Freshly armed with tips on how to add power to our stroke, we turned back into the wind and smashed through the waves back to the put-in. The strokes portion of the class filled the morning. By the time we got back to the put-in it was about noon, so we pulled the boats up on shore and took a lunch break on land.

During the break I had a chance to talk with a good friend who is back on the water after a nasty round of chemo. I admire this guy for maintaining a positive attitude through it all, and for his periodic - always upbeat - status emails through his ordeal. His emails never failed to inspire me to appreciate life a little bit more.

After lunch we focused on rolling. Unfortunately, the water level dropped dramatically during lunch break, almost as if someone had pulled the plug on Belmont Bay. I guess the tide combined with a shift in the winds accounted for this rapid drop. The net result was that the lower water level brought a bunch of weeds to the surface. You could paddle out past the weeds, but the wind would quickly blow you back. As a result, conditions weren't all that great and so I didn't do all that much rolling. I did a little practice using an Avataq (float) to get the feel of forward-finishing roll, but then I started to feel kinda wiped and so I headed back to the beach. A couple of other people headed in at about the same time. We chatted until the rest of the group came back in a little while later.

The class finished up back on land, with quick snippets of video from Greenland and some commando kayaking sea stories. Unfortunately, I had to bail because I knew I had to get home for Mother's Day dinner (Valerie is amazing to have let me go to this class on Mother's Day at all). So, I twisted Jen's arm a little to leave and we pointed the car northward towards home. And I made it back in time for dinner - barely.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

They are risen!

Midway through today's hike I had two simultaneous and contradictory thoughts. Tired and achy from rock scrambling on the way to the top of Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah Park, I looked at the next challenge and thought, "Boy, maybe I'm reaching the age when I'm going to have to cut back on some of these more strenuous outings." The reason I had time for my thoughts to wander, though, is that we had caught up with a hiking group composed entierely of Korean (I think) senior citizens and had to wait while they scrambled up a particularly challenging crevice in the rock. They were slow, but each and every one was making it. Ted and I had talked for a while earlier in the day with one of the younger members of their group, Joe, who told us that this group hikes every Sunday, and that they do it for their health. From the pace they were setting up the mountain, I'd say it was working! I guess if you set your mind to it, you don't ever have to slow down.

We did this hike as a closer to Ted's Spring Break. The last day of Spring break promised great weather, and so the two of us headed for the mountains. Ted had never done this hike before, and I'm not sure whether I had either (I know I've hiked the nearby White Oak Canyon trail), but it's known as one of the most spectacular hikes in the region. We expected the park to be empty, given that it was Easter, but when we arrived at 9:45 AM the upper lot was already full. The trailhead was abuzz with activity, including the Korean seniors doing group warmups.

I won't bother with all the particulars of the hike. I'll just say we did the classic Old Rag loop, 8.8 miles, plus the walk to and from the lower parking lot, for a total of about 10 miles. Elevation gain of about 2350 ft from the lot to the summit. Peak elevation, about 3200 ft. The weather indeed turned out to be lovely - chilly at first, but warming with the afternoon sun. We got ourselves pretty warmed up from the hiking and scrambling too; at one point just before the summit my legs got pretty rubbery from exertion and I had to take a little break.

We reached the summit at about 1 PM. There were still little icy pools of water here and there in the rock at the top, but overall it was a wonderful scene. Sunny, great vistas. We reconnected with a few groups we had bumped into on the way up - the three foul-mouthed nurses and their friend Tom, the young rock climber chick who had given me a boost to help me start up the challenging crevice mentioned above, and of course, the Koreans.

The hike down was on easier trails, but was still tough. I know from experience that for some reason I'm very slow when going down in elevation (it must be some muscle imbalance, since I'm fine on the climb), and so lots of people passed us on the way down. Finally, Ted and I arrived at the car tired and happy, with a great feeling of accomplishment.

The only other unusual part of the hike was that it was still Passover and so I couldn't take my usual collection of trail snacks - energy bars and the like. Instead I made do with matzo & cheese, an orange and various other little kosher for Passover tidbits I found at home. Likewise, when we stopped at WaWa market in Manassas for a snack on the way home, I had to pass up all the yummy chometzdick (that is, not kosher for Passover) snack foods. I wound up with the healthful, if not 100% satisfying combo of Baked Lays and apple slices.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Can Brooklyn count as The Outdoors?

I always find the drive from DC to NY tiring. I95 is always crowded enough that you can't just relax back into your thoughts, and today bad weather exacerbated the stress of the drive. Combined with some sensory overload from a brief stop at a kayak show, I was pretty dazed by the time I hit Staten Island. Is it any wonder that at first glance I misread the "Staten Island Botanical Garden" road sign as "Satanical Garden"?

Brooklyn always brings out mixed emotions for me. It's home. It's my roots. Truth be told, though, it's a pretty gray and grubby place. But dammit, the food is good. As usual, my first goal upon entering the borough is to get a slice of pizza. I squeeze the car into an impossibly small parking space in Bay Ridge and set out in search of a pizza place. The first place I come across, a block and a half up, is closed for renovation. I have to walk all the way to 79th St. to find a pizza place - that's five blocks! Having to walk five blocks to find pizza in Brooklyn is simply unfathomable. Pizza is ubiquitous in Brooklyn, and I am pretty frustrated by the time I finally belly up to the counter and order.

I can't help myself, I somehow pick up a Brooklyn dialect when I visit. Not just the accent, but quirks like calling people "buddy" and using expressions like "fuhgedaboutit". The funny thing is I didn't speak like this when I lived here. I think I overcompensate for my insecurity over being merely an ex-Brooklynite by adopting a comically exagerated Brooklyn persona. So, "yeah, gimme two slices an' a smawwl Diet Coke" is what I sez to the guy behind the counter at the pizza place.

Accent notwithstanding, I soon sit down with my two slices. There's a commercial for Domino's on TV. Domino's?? Who in their right mind would order Domino's in Brooklyn? I take a bite of my slice. It's about average for Brooklyn, which means it's AMAZING. The crust is a little on the crisp side, but the flavor is just right. It just explodes through my mouth. Before I know it I have inhaled the whole slice. I force myself to take a break and then eat the second more slowly. Heaven.

Oh, and I later figure out that had I walked in the other direction I would have gotten to a pizza place in only two blocks. That's more like it.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Wasn't it just snowing?

OK, so five days ago we got slammed with significant snow. But that was then, this is now. It hit seventy degrees today. Seventy! There is no way to describe how good the warm weather and the Springtime air feel when you're so, so sick of Winter.

Today was the annual trip planning meeting for my kayaking group. I usually attend the meeting but truth be told, I don't lead many trips, so this time I stayed home and worked on my taxes. I can add my trips to the calendar later. I swung by the meeting just as it was ending - had time to grab some dynamite coffee cake and join people as they headed for the river.

Oh, the agony and the ecstasy of warm early spring days! You have to dress for the water temperature, which is still in the 40's, so on went the layers and the dry suits. But have I mentioned that the air temperature was seventy degrees? Man, that winter gear is hot. Before I got into my boat I had to wade into the Potomac to cool off.

We launched from Gravelly Point, just north of National Airport. I have never seen the place so crowded. Joggers, runners, bikers, people with strollers, airplane watchers, boaters, walkers. So many people out taking advantage of the break in the weather. It was like a party, like Central Park. The large parking lot was full - we unloaded our boats and parked on the grass.

After zipping up into our oh-so-unconfortable gear we headed out, a group of eight paddlers. We crossed the Potomac and headed up the Anacostia River. The Anacostia is not the world's prettiest river. It has much more of a working river feel than the Potomac - work boats, scruffy marinas, the Navy Yard. We paddled up past the new Nationals stadium, past the USS Barry at the Navy Yard, a little past the Anacostia Community Boathouse. Along the way I splashed myself liberally with river water to stay cool - and you have to be pretty warm to voluntarily rub yourself with the toxic muck that is the Anacostia.

As we turned back we realized we had had the wind and the tide with us on the trip out. It was uphill, so to speak, on the way back for sure. The wind in our faces kept us cool, but it took a little work to keep up a decent pace. As usual, Cyndi literally paddled circles around the rest of us. I haven't paddled much over the Winter so I was feeling the burn for sure! As we rounded Haines Point a soccer player yelled to us asking if we could help him retrieve his ball, which had gone over the fence into the river. At first we said, "sure", but when he mentioned it had gone into the water 45 minutes earlier, we told him it had no doubt drifted too far to be found, apologized for not being able to help him out more, then continued on out into the Potomac.

I don't know how far we paddled, exactly, but we were out about 2 1/2 hours. As soon as I hit land I downed my extra water bottle in what felt like one gulp. We helped each other load boats, had a few mini coffee cakes that Dave had thought to grab as we headed out from his house, then headed out through the traffic jam - traffic jam! - of the Gravelly Point park.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Walking in a Winter Wonderland ... because the car broke down

So March starts off with a bang - a big, white bang of a snowfall. The biggest we've seen here in a long time. Not anything that would impress anyone from the real snowbelt, but big for Virginia. For Valerie and the boys decisions about what to do are easy - when your life revolves around school, someone else does the decision-making. School's closed - stay home. For me, things are a little more complicated. I'm usually pretty hard-core about making it into work. I've got a calendar full of meetings. On top of all that, I've got an appointment to bring my car into the shop on the way to work.

So, at 7:45 I set out so I can get to the shop at opening time. It's only about a mile from the house, but it turns out to be a crazy drive. Even the main roads are slick like crazy. I get to an intersection where I want to turn left, but the car just keeps going straight. Oh, boy. Fortunately, the roads are empty and so I safely slide to a stop about 50 feet past the intersection. From there I inch the rest of the way to the shop. The shop is open, but none of the mechanics have made it in yet. I leave the car but decide to go home rather than press on to work.

The walk home is amazing. There's a walking trail through a small park that connects to the bike trail that runs near my house. I do the whole walk home through parkland. It's still snowing. It's bitter cold, but I'm bundled up top to bottom. It's white, it's beautiful. It feels more like the Sierra Nevadas than Arlington. A few dog walkers are out, along with a few dedicated souls trudging to the Metro stop. We greet each other heartily.

It takes me about 30 minutes to walk home. I arrive home exhilarated. Another cup of coffee, light a fire in the fireplace, power up the laptop. One by one, my meetings get cancelled and disappear off the calendar. I have a pretty productive day by the fire.

I love March snow. All the fun, knowing full well that it's Winter's last gasp.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ich bin ein Fredericksburger

A little less than 150 years ago bullets were flying over the spot where we launched. Union and Confederate forces stood arrayed on opposite sides of the Rappahannock River in what would ultimately be a brutal defeat for Burnside's army at the hands of Robert E. Lee. Today, nary a ghost of that time stirred as Tom and I arrived for our trip up the Rappahannock. A group of us had accepted our friend Paige's invitation to come down his way, spend some time on the water, then check out his new house. Paige frequently makes the trek to DC to kayak with us, and we really owed him a return visit.

Tom and I, carpooling, arrived early, so we spent a little time driving around and checking out historical markers around the town. We headed back to the dock just as the rest of our group arrived - Dave and Cyndi, Nelson (without Caroline, who was sick), Kingsley, and Paige. In not time flat we were zipped up into our cold weather gear and were on the water.

The river had a pretty strong current and the weather was iffy so we decided to head upriver, figuring it was better to do the tough paddling on the way out and coast back. The river is narrow and shallow, but we made it all the way up to the base of the rapids in the center of town. A couple of our group went to play in the rapids a little bit. Paige got out of his boat and body-surfed the lowest rapid a few times. Tom and I, being a little more safety-oriented, beached our boats just downstream and walked up the river to hang with the rest of the gang. Definitely a fun interlude.

On the way back we did have the benefit of the current pushing us along, but we were subjected to crazy, very rapid changes in weather. Sunny. Stinging sleet. Sunny again. So windy that you just stopped paddling and ruddered to keep the boat pointed in the right direction. Cloudy. Rain.

After we got off the water we all headed over to Paige's house, which was just a few minutes' drive from the put-in. It's a beautiful house in an attractive new development. He just bought the place this past year and so it has an, um, open look. That is to say, he has very little furniture outside the bedrooms. First we stood around the kitchen eating snacks and drinking the beer assortment that Dave had so thoughtfully brought. Then we all sprawled out on the carpet in the totally empty family room while we waited for the incredibly slow Frederickburg Dominoes to deliver. Once the pizza arrived we discovered how hungry we were, as we devoured it in what seemed like seconds. Then we made equally short work of the brownies Caroline had thoughtfully sent along with Nelson.

Finally Tom and I said our goodbyes and headed back North, away from the civil war and back to Sunday afternoon chores.