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.