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.