Thursday, December 30, 2010

Experiments in Speedwalking

I'm starting to worry that my running days are over. Well, worry may be too strong a word. I started running after Teddy was born since it was the only exercise I could do on the spur of the monent any time of day or night ... "the baby's asleep, I'm going for a run." I have never considered myself a runner in a "I am a Dancer and a Dancer dances" sort of way. Still, I like it in a lot of ways. It's a highly portable workout. It gets me outside day in and day out. It also is a more challenging aerobic workout than anything else I do. The problem is that it's also very high impact and I suspect that's one of the causes of my current achy back. I actually stopped running for a year and had far fewer back problems. Since I joined an early morning bootcamp class earlier this year (a class which is full of serious runners) I have been going back to it, with a corresponding increase in back issues. Now I have a herniated L3-L4 disk and feel like I'm 90 years old. The funny thing is I'm fine while moving: walking, kayaking, rowing, running. It's staying still that hurts.

Anyway, I've been looking to find activities to take the place of running. My current experiment is speedwalking. I wouldn't say I was racewalking, since I don't have that odd racewalking gait down. Rather, it's just walking as fast as I can with a fast cadence. So far the experiment has been a success. Thanks to my lovely Garmin Forerunner I know that I can get my heart rate pretty well up there - not quite like running, but definitely into Zone 4 (aerobic training). With running I get my heart rate up to about 150 BPM pretty quickly and stay there. When speedwalking my HR takes longer to ramp up and tends to sit in the mid-140's. My second speedwalk I got up into the 150's for the last ten minutes or so - not sure what was different or if I was just worked out at that point. The tables all say I should be exercising at abut 146 BPM but I seem to be able to handle a little faster. Maybe I should try speedwalking the hills of my neighborhood.

The only downside is I'm sure I look like a dork doing it. But, it still gets me outside, and it's much lower impact than running. I'm going to keep experimenting.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Meditation By the Numbers

V bought me a wonderful birthday present: a Garmin Forerunner, which is a combination GPS and heart rate monitor. I have been using it for all sorts of things: keeping myself from slacking off when I run, keeping track of distance when I run in unfamiliar places, and just as a HR monitor on the erg (rowing machine). It's very cool. I love data!!!!

I decided to wear my new toy while meditating to see if I could see any physiological effects from meditation. For my first trial I turned on some streaming ambient music and settled in on the couch. The problem was that right after I settled in an announcer came on and started talking up the station's Premium (paid) Service. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of ignoring this disturbance, but the heart rate shows otherwise. Or maybe it's just Heisenberg effect - knowing I was monitoring myself got me a little agitated. Anyway, after a few minutes the announcer finished and I settled into a body check-in: a mindfulness meditation where you turn your attention in turn to the different parts of your body. That settled my HR down into the 60's. After a while I switched to another technique; a "Yud Hay Vov Hay" breathing meditation I learned from Rabbi Jeff Roth. Interesting results there - a choppy and slightly higher HR before finally settling down. As a third step I tried a prone visualization meditation that I learned in a yoga class. That produced a very steady, slow heart rater. I ordinarily wouldn't do three types of meditation in one sitting, but I was experimenting. My conclusion is that physiological effects of meditation are clearly measurable through HR.

One thing really bothered me about my first trial, and that was the absolute numbers of HR. Because I exercise regularly I have a pretty low resting heart rate and I was surprised that my meditation numbers were as high as they were - particularly since an initial brief focused breathing test had yielded a HR of 56 BPM. So I decided to try again. The chart below shows my second result. I started with the same seated check-in as the first trial (minus the initial aggravation) and quickly got down below 60 BPM. I think I have an explanation for the little bumps at 4:00, 6:30 and 9:30. I was tired and I think I dozed off a couple of times. I think the bumps are where I caught myself and awoke with a start.

I continued with a repeat of the prone meditation. Again, my HR clocked right down into the upper 50's. Apparently I dozed off once there too, as shown by the wake-up bump just after minute 14. I was much happier with these absolute numbers, which I think reflect less HR elevation from experimental stress (and more tiredness-induced relaxation to boot).

I would love to be able to repeat this experiment with blood pressure. In the meantime, I may continue using the HR monitor as a new-found way of monitoring my meditation.

Oh, one last thing. I wasn't trying for a certain duration and so I find it interesting that in both trials I meditated for almost exactly the same duration.

Now, back to tonight's meditation ... drinking cognac while looking out the window at the snow :)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My new Forerunner

One of my Channukah presents was a Garmin Forerunner. This amazing little device combines a GPS and heart rate monitor to allow you to track your workouts - distance, pace, heart rate, time. I love it. It's been keeping me honest. Seeing my pace, I've been running harder. I have been using it on the erg and have been rowing harder (in that case I'm using it just for the HR monitor, since the GPS track of rowing in place isn't very useful). I wore it while raking leaves the other day just to see the impact on my heart rate (about 90 - 100 BPM, since you asked). I have even done a quick test of my ability to lower my resting heart rate through meditation. Initial results are positive: got down to 56 BPM. That was just a quick test; I need to collect a longer sample. If anything gets me out of bed in 20 degree weather tomorrow to go running it'll be the opportunity to collect another data set. I love data!

The thing does look like a "Dick Tracy watch" (for those old enough to know what that means) though. And speaking as a one-time GPS designer, the size and capabilities of the thing just blow my mind.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A couple of trips to the Shenandoahs

It's a quick trip from where I live to Shenandoah National Park: an hour and forty-five minutes at most. Every year I vow I'm going to take more advantage of this nearby hiking wonderland, however I'm ashamed to admit how often I go for extended periods without going there. Well, this Fall I have been true to my vow, having logged two recent trips to the Shenandoahs.

First, just I was really jonesing for a hike, Teddy asked if I'd want to come along on a Yorktown High School Outdoors Club hike to Old Rag Mountain. I felt pretty happy that he asked - not every teenage kid wants his dad tagging along on a school trip with his friends. I was also thrilled because this is one of the best hikes in the area. The hike is about nine miles of fairly steep vertical trails with some rock scrambling to finally reach a great view at the summit at about 3200 ft. elevation. There were as many adults as kids along on the hike: two Yorktown teachers (required), my friends Elisa and Steve, another Dad and I accompanied five high schoolers and one younger kid. A very nice group of kids - I think the kind of kid who would spent a weekend day hiking rather than playing Nintendo or going to the mall is the kind I'm inclined to like. Interestingly, the trail was much less crowded than usual - perhaps because it was at the very early edge of foliage season and most folks were waiting for more intense Fall colors to appear.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks: This past Friday after a crazy week I found myself with a day off and decided to head for the park again to get my own look at near-peak colors. I can make myself crazy second-guessing my decisions and I did so as I drove out to the park - such a long drive, this wasn't a great year for foliage because of a hot, dry September so why am I bothering?, I had so many chores to take care of, I needed to practice for an upcoming bar mitzvah gig, was it even worth the trip? These thoughts dogged me all the way to the park but disappeared the minute I was out of the car and on the trail.

It was a chilly, windy morning but I was properly dressed. The air was crisp and the view was notable even from the parking lot. I parked at Panorama (near Thornton Gap) and hit the Appalachian Trail headed to Mary's Rock. This is another vertical hike to a spectacular viewpoint - albeit a shorter one than Old Rag. I had my GPS with me and the elevation view of my track is pretty entertaining: flat across the parking lot, then a steep steady climb, gaining 1,200 ft in elevation over just 1.8 miles of trail. I had brought my camera along. Between the partly cloudy weather and the aforementioned sub-optimal foliage conditions, the big vistas were not popping with color to extent they sometimes do. However, there was plenty of color at the level of individual trees. I pointed my camera at stands of trees and even individual leaves - some of the leaves had strikingly beautiful multicolored patterns. I think I got some nice pictures.

The summit of Mary's Rock affords a nearly 360 degree view of the park and the Shenandoah Valley. Because of its sweep I think it's actually a more stunning view than Old Rag. I scrambled up the rocks at the summit to get an even better view. The view was so nice that I ignored the cold wind and stayed up on the rocks to eat my lunch. My Spaghettios Thermos (passed down from my children) hadn't kept the Asian noodles with peanut sauce I had prepared very warm but the dish was still tasty and just warm enough to help counter the nippy conditions on the mountain. I had the summit to myself - again, the trail had been fairly empty - though a couple of other hikers showed up just as I was starting down.

On the drive back I spotted a coffee roaster store in Sperryville. I was past the place by the time its presence registered, so I pulled onto the shoulder and drove about 100 feet in reverse back to the store. The place is a true roaster - they roast their coffee in-house. Their bags of coffee all carry roast dates, and the dates of the two bags I bought were the current day and the day before - fresh roasted! I poured a cup for the road (which they comped to me since I bought two bags of coffee!) and headed back home, this time without any inner second-guessing.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tashlich by Mayak

My Tashlich by kayak video can be see here.

L'Shanah Tovah!

On Hallowed Ground

Circumstances prevented me from attending services Rosh Hashonah morning. I usually like to spend some time outside on the holidays, as I find nature to be a spiritual experience. So, I brought my prayerbook with me and after taking care of my family business I made the quick trip over to Manassas Battlefield Park with the idea of finding a quiet spot to read through the morning rosh Hashonah service.

One cannot visit the Manassas battlefield and not feel the hallowed aspect of the ground. This was the site of two major Civil War battles (the battles of Bull Run, I was raised to call them, though in the South they're known as First and Second Manassas). Thousands died here in battles of brother against brother. The bible clearly understands this theme, containing as it does any number of stories of conflict between brothers. Had I done nothing other than walk the battlefield I feel like I still would have been learning biblical lessons, but I was intent on delving into the service. I walked the fields past the Henry House, the Stone House and up Matthew's Hill, finally finding and ducking into a stand of trees.

The morning Rosh Hashonah service opens with a biblical quote from Numbers. ""How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel! Like valleys they spread out, like gardens beside a river, like aloes planted by the LORD, like cedars beside the waters." I was immediately struck by the contrast between the photos I had seen in the visitor's center of the soldiers' tents and this biblical phrase. How would someone have reacted coming upon one of the encamped armies? Certainly not by declaring the beauty of the encampment.

The Rosh Hashonah liturgy is full of symbols of the specialness and fragility of life. To me, reading the passages on a battlefield brought home the specialness of our existence. One of the central prayers of the service, the Unetennah Tokef, reads in part 

""On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: how many shall pass on, and how many shall be born; who shall live, and who shall die; who in his time, and who before his time; who by fire and who by water; who by sword and who by beast; who by hunger and who by thirst; who by storm and who by plague; who by choking and who by stoning... Who shall rest, and who shall wander; who shall be tranquil and who shall be harassed; who shall be at peace and who shall suffer; who shall become poor, and who shall become rich; who shall fall and who shall rise... But repentance, prayer and charity revoke the evil decree!"

Was G-d there at Manassas? Was he there as the floors of the Stone House were stained red with the blood of wounded soldiers, as artillery fire ravaged the troops? Was he deciding how many would pass on that day by sword? 

There is a majesty to going to a service, to hearing the prayers recited and chanted in a group environment. But there's something maybe even a little more special about studying them yourself in a place that is steeped in the theme of life and death.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Paddling Route: Truxton Park to
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
My friend Ed's been off the water for a while dealing with various medical problems. He's finally feeling up to paddling so this weekend he organized a return to paddling "coming out party", paddling out of Truxton Park in Annapolis. Ed wasn't sure how much distance he'd be up for, but we had a laid back group that was ready to be supportive and take on whatever distance and speed turned out to be appropriate.

I had never launched from Truxton before, as I'd heard it's kind of a madhouse of boats. That turns out to be true, but it's also a pretty cool (and free!) place to get on the water. Yes, I felt like I was playing kayaking Frogger here and there, but a few minutes of paddling takes you to "ego alley", the point in downtown Annapolis where the yachts tie up, there's some nice sightseeing in Spa Creek and from there it's a quick hop out into the Severn River and the Chesapeake Bay.

Our group of seven included Ed, me, a woman named Melissa whom I hadn't met before, my kayaking neighbor Jen, Yvonne, and kayaking couple Greg and Jenny. Greg's an experienced and inventive paddler - always experimenting with this and that. Today he was kayaking with a stumpy canoe paddle rather than the usual double-bladed kayak paddle. Jenny is someone who is both skilled and just wonderfully graceful on the water. I took rolling lessons with her at several different kayaking events back when I was learning to roll. They're both really nice, laid back people to boot. Yvonne and Jen had spent the night on Yvonne's boyfriend's boat in Galesville. They had been out partying the night before but looked none the worse for wear.

We did the little trip into downtown and then headed east out the mouth of the Severn. From there we headed south down the edge of the Bay, passing the "Maritime Republic of Eastport" and then heading down towards the South River. We took a break at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, where we all gathered at a picnic table looking out over the sandy beach and the Bay. From this spot we could see the activity of the Chesapeake - the big freighters, the small sailboats, Thomas Point Lighthouse.

Ed, Greg, Jenny and Jen at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation
On the trip back we picked up a small amount of chop. We got to watch a guy experimenting with a standup paddle board - and repeatedly falling off in the waves. We saw some sailboat racers. We detoured to see if the Blackburns, some members of the club, were there on their boat but alas, they weren't. Finally, we returned to Truxton, having covered 11.2 miles. This was much longer than we expected to paddle, a good sign for Ed's stamina and overall fitness. After loading the boats a few folks headed out to lunch, but since it was getting late I just headed home - hitting some traffic from the nasty Glenn Beck/Sarah Palin rally along the way. Grrrr.

A perfect day weatherwise (sunny, not too hot, not too windy), and a nice opportunity for a group paddle to commemorate
Publish Post
Ed's return to the water.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bay Ridge Run

Thomas Wolfe wrote that "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn." Well, it's certainly true that even most of its inhabitants don't know it all. I went out for a run while back in Brooklyn for a visit. I had never realized before how easy it is to get from the Hotel Gregory in Bay Ridge onto the Shore Parkway jogging and bike path that runs along New York Bay. In fact, I can't remember ever having explored this path before despite my having admired it a gazillion times while cruising along the adjacent Belt Parkway (never mind that I should have been watching the road, not the bike path). The path offers a gorgeous view of the harbor, punctuated by the towering visage of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. When it opened this bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world and it's still the longest in the U.S. (the latter according to Wikipedia).

There's a real difference in feel between Brooklyn and DC. In the early mornings the W&OD trail near my house is filled with people grimly set on accomplishing some goal - getting their cardio in, doing some mileage. Washington is all about goals, all about the ends, not the means. Everyone is decked out in serious exercise attire, the better to efficiently make their milestones - beating yesterday's time, going the distance.

In contrast, the Shore trail in Brooklyn feels almost like a party at 7 AM. Yeah, there are serious runners, but there are also people just strolling along enjoying the breeze and the view. One guy had set up a lawn chair and was reading the paper. People on bikes pedaled past at a moderate pace - wearing street clothes, no less. Such behavior would be frowned upon among the spandex-clad, breakneck speed "serious" bikers of DC. A group did tai chi with swords. A few people leaned on the railing and watched the ships go by. The people along the Shore trail were really in the moment, enjoying where they were and the experience of being there, not whether their heart rates were in the target zone.

I'm a Brooklynite by background but also an adopted DC'r, so I split the difference. Yes, I had a big grin on my face as I padded along the trail in my Vibrams - the sight of the bridge and the oh-so clearly Brooklyn people made me happy. But, I was also there for serious exercise. After overdoing it a bit on the run (I kept going after one of Achilles tendons screamed "Stop!") I did some exercises at a park bench - dips, squats, lunges, bootslappers, push-ups. This being New York, no one raised an eyebrow at my odd antics. The ground on the trail was a little too trashy to get down on the ground and do exercises so I passed for the moment on some of my routine. I walked up to a little park along the higher level path on the other side of the Belt where I had seen the tai chi practitioners earlier. The ground was cleaner there so I did a few more exercises. After this I thought I was done but my walk back to the hotel took me past Ft. Hamilton High School. I wandered onto the field, where I found a soccer team practicing some odd drills, urging each other on in Spanish. The field itself was artificial turf and badly needed vacuuming -- or whatever it is you do to clean the schmutz off of Astroturf, but still quite usable. I found a quiet corner away from the soccer team and did abdominal work. Finally, I headed back to the hotel and woke up the boys.

I miss that part of the New York attitude - life is a party, go out and enjoy! Washington is so damn serious. I like the (marginally) slower pace of DC, but can't we learn to have some fun?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Belle Isle Trip - Day 3

Today the forecast high temperature is triple digits, plus we  know we have to be out of the campsite by 3 PM, so we plan a slightly shorter paddle. We get as early a start as we can, which in mellow-out mode means we hit the put-in a little after 8:30 AM. Paddling once again out of Belle Isle we decide this time to cross the Rappahannock (Powhatan for "River in place with a few traffic lights") and explore a creek or two on the opposite shore. We quickly got some excitement when a pod of dolphins swam by! Coming up close and personal with dolphins when you're in a small boat is an incredibly cool experience. They're so graceful, so powerful. They're visible for such a brief instant each time they come out of the water that it almost seems like you've imagined them. Rob and I stopped and watched them until they were out of sight. The experience gave me a grin that lasted the rest of the day.

Dolphin dead ahead
We continued across the river, about a 3 mile crossing due south to Punchbowl Point. Have I mentioned it was hot? Not matter what we did to cool off, it was hot hot hot. When we hit the far shore we paddled into Parrott's Creek where there was a public landing - an actual one with a boat ramp. I had the ramp as a waypoint on my GPS because there happened to be a geocache there. We took a break and watched the boaters come and go. I found the geocache. We also braved the water for a quick dip despite the presence of at least one small jellyfish. As was the case every day, we decided to return a little sooner than planned because of the heat. The return trip was pretty quick. Some big white houses near Belle Isle made a good visual landmark and so we were able to make a beeline back to the put-in.

When we got back to Belle Isle we set to breaking camp. The moment when the tent comes down is always a sad one for me, symbolizing the end of my sojourn in the peaceful, natural world. My sad feelings were assuaged somewhat about twenty minutes into the ride home when I stopped at a 7-11 and got an ice cold soda - a nice counter to the hot, hot weather of the day. On the drive home I watched the car's outside temp gauge, which did indeed break 100 for a while. I'm glad for air conditioning and cold sodas, but I like the outdoors too.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Belle Isle Trip - Day 2

Rob and I awaken and crawl out of our tents at about the time and have a quick breakfast of cereal and Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee. Seeing Rob pull out his camping bowl and folding camping cutlery makes me a little guilty for using a disposable plastic bowl and spoon. Isn't it wonderful how easy it is to find something to feel guilty about these days? Who knew that Mother Nature was a Jewish Mother? We're eager to get on the road because we have about an hour's drive to today's paddle. We load both boats onto one car so as to conserve gas (score one for Mother Nature!) and hit the road.

Mathews is one of the less developed counties in Virginia, so rural that it may not have even a single traffic light. I say "may not" because whether it does or not depends on whether you count the lights at the end of the swing bridge to Gwynn's Island, as mentioned in this quote from the county web page: "Mathews County still does not have any traffic signal lights. However, there are lights placed at either end of the swing span bridge to Gwynn's Island that could be considered traffic lights by some." As just about everyone knows, Mathews is also known as the daffodil center of the Middle Peninsula and was the home of Sally Tompkins, the only female officer in the Confederate Navy. Captain Tompkins, I salute you for your groundbreaking accomplishment, even if it was in the service of treason against the state. Oops, my Yankee roots are showing again.

Mathews County has developed a set of water trails - planned paddling routes, much like hiking trails. A neat set of maps is available at the Bay Gateways web site. I had studied and plotted waypoints for two: the Piankatank River Trail and the Winter and Horn Harbor Trail. It was hard to resist a river with a name like Piankatank (a Powhatan Indian word meaning "river in place of no traffic lights") but since the weather was calm we opted for the more remote, more exposed Winter and Horn Harbor Route, which included a section in the Chesapeake Bay. The launch point was at Garden Creek Landing, a somewhat grandiose name for what turned out to be nothing more than a road that ended at a sand dune. Apparently the end of the road is a little bit of public Chesapeake Bay frontage sandwiched between private property to the left and right. It seemed quite remote to us but was hardly unknown - someone was there combing the sand with a metal detector when we arrived, and a small group of locals was there enjoying the beach when we returned.

We launched into the Bay and headed due south along the shoreline. The Bay was pretty calm, though an occasional wave broadsided us, dumping across our boats. Good bracing practice. We followed the water trail route into the northern end of Winter Harbor. What looked like a small opening on the map turned out to be almost half a mile wide and we poked along looking for the narrow harbor opening for quite a while before realizing we were already in the harbor. After crossing the northern harbor we followed a narrow series of passages to the harbor's southeast corner. It was during this time that I realized the challenges of navigating on water using a GPS loaded with the "roads and recreation" mapset. Rob's GPS, loaded with the marine mapset, offered a much better representation of the facts on the ground (or on the water). So we had my GPS, loaded with the route waypoints but showing us paddling over land, and we had Rob's GPS with the good maps but no route waypoints. No problem; we put our egg-like heads together and figured our way through. The stretch through Winter Harbor was as beautiful as kayaking gets: tall grasses, pretty water, blue skies, bird life aplenty. Being on the water can be so wonderful that one wonders why Noah was so happy to see the dove bring back the olive branch indicating the reemergence of dry land.
Birds on pilings in the Chesapeake Bay near Garden Creek

Before long we reached the Winter Harbor channel, identified by a series of red markers, at which point it was time to decided whether to explore the fingers of Winter Harbor or whether to head back into the Bay and paddle around into Horn Harbor. We chose the latter, first taking a bit of a break on a beautiful and desolate sandy strip just outside Winter Harbor (due south of red buoy 4A, in case you want to visit). While I knew we were just around the bend from some houses inside the harbor, it felt like we were at some incredibly remote desert island. We beached the boats and dunked ourselves in the water for a bit, gaining a little refreshment from the bathwater warm sea. We also walked around and took pictures. As with the prior day, I was just reveling in being in such a wonderful and different place, wearing a PFD (life jacket) rather than a Blackberry.
Cooling off in the Bay near Beach Point

We climbed back into our boats and paddled into Horn Harbor looking for Peary Landing as a place for a lunch break. By this point it was quite hot out and we were hoping to find some shade in which to take a break. Peary Landing turned out to be elusive - it may be another of those hard to discern end-of-the-road public landings, but we did find a cove that offered a place to get out and get shade under a stand of evergreens. The shoreline was guarded by an army of little fiddler crabs, ridiculous looking things each with one huge claw. They looked like they were wearing the crab version of those giant foam hands you see fans wear at ball games. Fortunately the Lilliputian crustacean defenders retreated as we approached and kept their distance as we feasted on peanut butter sandwiches, tuna, Toblerone and, in my case, a lukewarm Coke Zero.

Once again the heat proved to be a limiting factor (or LIMFAC, as my Department of Defense friends say) for us. The trail is listed as 15 to 22 miles, which would have included going further up Horn Harbor and optionally exploring some side creeks. Sitting there amongst the crabs our GPS receivers showed we had covered just short of 7 miles, but we decided to head back, for a roughly 14 mile round trip. We retraced our steps (paddles?) out of Horn Harbor. Instead of going back through Winter Harbor, though, we stayed in the Bay and headed straight north for home. The wind and water had picked up just a little bit, but fortunately they were behind us and helped push us along. On Day 1 I discovered that my boat is slower than Rob's into the wind. On Day 2 I discovered that mine flies relative to his with following wind and seas. When I stopped paddling I would still find myself moving forward at almost 2 knots. Unfortunately for Rob he was not getting this same level of boost. I kept pausing to let him close the distance between us but the waves conspired to keep me going. Before long we found ourselves back at Garden Creek.

Some of the inspiration for this trip came from Kayaker Ralph's recent Chesapeake Paddler's Association trip to the same area (well, also I had for years wanted to check out the Mathews water trails). Our original dinner plan for the day had included visiting the same restaurant Ralph's group had, the Oasis in the inappropriately named town of Lively. However, on our way down to Mathews we had passed through Kilmarnock, a tidy and genuinely lively little town that we noticed offered a choice of restaurants. Kilmarnock did not have the washed out, hungry look common to rural towns and hadn't once brought Deliverance to mind as we passed through and so I noted it as a place to stop for dinner on the way back. At Garden Creek we loaded our boats and cleaned up as best we could, including rinsing our feet in a convenient puddle. One advantage of being as bald as Rob and I are (remarkably, he has me beat!) is the lack of telltale unkempt hair. With fresh clothes on we looked fresh as, if not a daisy, at least a Mathews daffodil and after loading the boats we rolled toward Kilmarnock for dinner.

Remarkably we passed up the Car Wash Cafe and Catering and instead chose a Mexican Place with tables outside. There we struck up a conversation with some regulars, including meeting Lady the dog, Lady's owner, and a couple of guys who appeared to have a standing order to have a round of Budweisers delivered to their table every ten minutes or so. Not rednecks. More like shore people. Laid back, happy to be out enjoying a nice evening socializing in town. Our waitress was a cute, young, moderately tatooed woman who offered pleasant service and complimented our decision to order vegetables and salad rather than heavier fried stuff - she's a healthful eater herself, she said. I must say that the burritos (and veggies) and a beer really hit the spot.

After dinner we headed the rest of the way back to the still deserted campground where we turned in early. As I went to bed I figured that there must not be much of a bear population in the area, as the garbage and recycling cans had regular, unsecured lids. I also thought about the lack of security at the campground and how it would be a great place for a homicidal maniac to kill a bunch of campers - well, a small bunch, since as I've mentioned the campground was pretty empty. Well, I figured as I dozed off, either the homicidal maniac threat is as small as the bear threat or the locals have just accepted the occasional brutal slaying as a part of life, much as I used to accept having my car stereo stolen every year when I lived in New York. Either way, I drifted off to sleep reasonably certain I was going to awaken not to Freddie Kruger or Yogi Bear but to the next day's sunrise.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Belle Isle Trip - Day 1

Today was Day 1 of a three day kayaking and camping trip. My friend Rob and I planned this trip somewhat at the last minute in place of Kayaker Ed’s Thousand Islands trip, which was cancelled due to Kayaker Ed’s back problems.

I wheeled into the Warsaw, VA McDonald’s about 15 minutes ahead of the planned meeting time to find Rob already there. A good sign – I like punctuality. We continued on to Belle Isle State Park, where the person checking us into the campground seemed almost surprised to see us. I later realized this was because, for some reason, the campground was all but deserted. I’m not sure why that would be the case for such a beautiful park in the middle of summer vacation season. But anyway, the check-in person assigned us a nice site and promised that she wouldn’t put anyone in the adjacent site – an easy promise to keep, given that it turned out that only four of the thirty sites were occupied. It felt like we had the place to ourselves.

After setting up our tents and Rob’s nifty shade canopy we headed out for our first paddle of the trip. We set out from the park’s car-top launch, which is nicely located in a quiet little creek. We paddled out of the creek and turned northwest into the Rappahannock River (upriver). I’m more familiar with the piddly little upriver section of the Rappahannock near Fredericksburg and so it was nice to discover how large the river felt down near its mouth – it’s several miles wide, in fact. The shoreline along this section is fairly developed with houses but is still pretty. We cruised along, sightseeing and just generally enjoying being out on the water. In particular we noticed the popularity of red metal roofs.

We ducked into Farnham Creek. Just at the creek mouth there’s a little spit of land that creates something of a lagoon. The lagoon was like an idyllic little oasis and turned out to be an excellent place to take a break. It also gave us a chance to do some nature watching: we saw herons, cattle egret, and even a dinner plate sized jellyfish. Since I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast back home I hungrily munched down some trail mix and whatever other snack food I had with me. We spent quite a while there just reveling in being out in nature … and away from the office.
Me taking a break at the lagoon

Rob relaxing at the lagoon
Because of the heat we decided not to paddle further, so we started heading back. The wind had picked up and so we crunched through some light chop. The design of my boat is such that it cuts through waves rather than going over them. The advantage of this is that you don’t get the pounding that you do with a more buoyant bow, but you get a wetter ride when paddling into the waves and, I noticed, have the bow dive into each wave really slows the boat down. I suddenly found myself working pretty hard to keep up with Rob. At the time I thought he had gotten a strong second wind and was sprinting back to the put-in, but in retrospect I think it was mostly the difference in how our boats performed in the chop.

Upon our return to the campsite we relaxed with appetizers (wine and cheese, and canned oysters for Rob) then cooked our dinner (burgers, cucumber salad, and fresh corn). A tasty end to an enjoyable first day.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Almost biblical proportions

It was another one of those evenings when a Severe Thunderstorm Warning was in effect, but conditions looked pretty clear. Not unusual for a Washington summer evening. Because (for the sake of variety) we were paddling out of an alternative location, and perhaps because of the weather, only a few people showed up. It was just Rob, Kurt, Peter and me. After some time spent examining the weather maps on various smartphones and listening to the forecast on the radio we decided it was safe to go out. The Severe Thunderstorm Warning was scheduled to expire within 30 minutes and it looked like the last line of storms had already passed by. Still, to be (slightly) safe we ditched our original plan of paddling up the Anacostia River, which would have meant a mile or so of exposed paddling across the Potomac. Instead we headed south, sticking close to the Virginia shore.

South of National Airport we decided to duck into the cove to see if it was possible to poke up Four Mile Run at all. A poor choice of routes into the cove combined with low tide soon had us nearly aground in some very shallow water. As we were mucking our way through this inch deep stuff a wave train came rolling in from the river - a series of small (maybe a few inches high) but noticeable waves. According to Kurt, this was the tidal bore - the leading edge of the tide as it turned around and started to come in. I'm not sure if this was the case or not, but if it was it was a pretty cool thing to have witnessed. And I can say I kayaked through a tidal wave.

Our focus on slogging our way across the shallow flats back into the deeper channel was suddenly interrupted by Rob's VHF weather radio which sprung to life with an urgent warning pertaining to a Severe Thunderstorm just north of National Airport heading south, bringing with it heavy rains and 50 MPH winds. In other words, it was just on the other side of the airport from us and headed our way. We could see the storm in the distance and so made a beeline for shelter at the Washington Sailing Marina. There we waited things out for a while, striking up a conversation with some sailors who were also waiting for the weather to clear. As it turned out, the storm tracked just north of us. We could definitely see it and we could feel the wind pick up, but we didn't feel a drop of rain. I think, however, that if we had been in the Anacostia River as planned we would have gotten hit more head-on.

As the storm continued east, a giant rainbow appeared in the sky, bathing the silvery riverfront headquarters of the Defense Intelligence Agency in multicolored splendor. I know from my biblical studies that the appearance of a rainbow means everything is going to be A-OK for boaters (Genesis 9:13), so we took it as a sign that the weather was again safe and started the trip back to Gravelly. As is often the case, the thunderstorm left some beautiful skies behind it and as we paddled home we were treated to a gorgeous sunset.

There was one other neat aspect to the paddle. Our route took us around the airport's perimeter. (I assume) because they were trying to clear a backlog of flights that had been held during the storm, both the main runway and the shorter crossing runway (runway 33, that is) were in use. Planes landing on the crossing runway practically skim the water as they come in. If you happen to be paddling past the end of the runway as a flight is approaching the planes are so low that you really feel the urge to duck. It was cool. We waved to the pilots on approach. Couldn't see into the cockpits to see if they waved back, though.

As we landed our kayaks, we could see that as is typical, Gravelly was crowded with people there to enjoy the river view on a pretty evening and, in particular, to watch the planes take off and land. The roar of planes as they thunder in and out of the main runway is pretty impressive. We got off the river feeling that having witnessed the (putative) tidal bore, a massive thunderstorm, a giant rainbow, and a grand sunset, we had indeed had a special evening.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Clearwater Trip Day 3

I'm always amazed at how well I can sleep in a tent. I wake up feeling pretty refreshed despite having gotten up briefly a couple of times during the night. I'm glad it's early. The event camping area has inadequate facilities (two sinks, two toilets, and two urinals for about 100 tents worth of campers) and I want to get washed up before it gets crowded. As I bruch my teeth, one of the guitarists I played with at the previous evening's jam session ambles up to the other sink. As we wash and chat a line begins to form behind us. Without warning, the guy lifts one of his feet into the sink and starts scrubbing it. "Mulberries," he explains. "I walked through a bunch of them barefoot last night and now my feet are all purple." He washes one dirty purple foot, then the other, oblivious to the line of people behind him waiting to do things like brush their teeth at that sink. I make a note to use only the left-hand sink for the remainder of my stay.

It's pretty early and so I do have time for kayaking before the festival starts. I drive down to the car-top boat launch and spend a nice couple of hours paddling around Croton Point. The Hudson scenery is pretty awesome. The river, even up here, is quite wide with high bluffs on the western shore. On the way back I stop at the festival's "working waterfront" area to do some rolling practice. After a while I'm joined by another guy. He's paddling a recreational kayak - sort of a low end thing - and makes a number of attempts to roll, failing and wet exiting each time. The first time I see him struggling I paddle over and put my boat's bow near him so he can do a bow rescue. It turns out, however, that he's never heard of this technique. The only way he knows to get back into his boat is a mad cowboy scramble from the stern. As we talk he tells me that he's planning to travel by kayak from his home in New Jersey to Baltimore to visit his brother. He says he's got the route all worked out. I expect we'll be hearing more from this plucky young fellow - most likely in the next volume of Sea Kayaker's cautionary "Deep Trouble" books.

About noontime I head over to the main stage and stake out a spot with my chair and raincoat. I then make a bee-line to the dance tent to hear more zydeco. Today it's C.J. Chenier, who is a close friend ... well, I once rode in an elevator with him. I'm taking mental notes as I watch - my klezmer trio is scheduled to play the dance tent at the Takoma Park Folk Festival in September. I meet up with Sherry and Ken (and briefly, my DC kayaker friend Matt). As we're heading back to the main stage at the end of Chenier's set the heavens open up with a summer thunderstorm. Between Sherry's umbrella and my raincoat we get only partly drenched as we watch the band Donna the Buffalo. The rain does help cool things off a little, which is good as I stay largely rooted in place for the next couple of acts: Joan Osborne, then Shawn Colvin (I do take time off to get another delicious felafel .. worth the 30 minute wait). I also browsed the Activist Area, but stopped myself from engaging the folks at the "Israel out of Gaza" and "Close Indian Point Nuclear Power Station" booths. Didn't feel like ruining my good mood by picking arguments with these folks. But it made me realize where the lefty orthodoxy is these days.

I had decided that morning to drive home Sunday rather than stay over another night. I had already broken camp and my gear was in the car, so at the end of Shawn Colvin's set I bid Sherry and Ken adieu and got on the road. They were incredulous that I wouldn't stay for David Bromberg, but I'm not a big fan. Likewise, I couldn't believe that they were totally unfamiliar with Shawn Colvin, who is in my opinion an amazingly talented singer-songwriter.

A leisurely drive down the Hudson through Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, over the Tappan Zee Bridge (it never occurred to me growing up that it was unusual how many things in NY had Dutch names), and then a Starbucks-fueled dash down the Garden State Parkway and I95, and I found myself home again.

Note that there's no mention of Charles and Lori in today's write-up. They made it back to the festival but I never saw them - they spent all day at the beach and kids activities and we never met up. I was bummed about that.

All in all, a really enjoyable weekend. I'm already scheming how to do it again next year and maybe entice some of my family members to come along.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Clearwater Trip Day 2

I start the day with a bowl of cereal and Starbucks Via Brew instant coffee - unsatisfying in a different way than the French press coffee I usually make while camping. It's too early to head to the festival so I take a leisurely stroll along the beach at Lake Welch. I'm really impressed with the beauty and maintenance level of this campground. Unfortunately, it's not where I'll be staying for the Festival; just a stop along the way, so after lounging for a bit I break camp and get on my way.

After a pretty river crossing of the Hudson at the Bear Mountain Bridge I arrive at Croton Point Park and proceed to spend 30 minutes creeping my way into the festival. I set up camp and head down in time to catch Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek). The aptly named Hudson Stage is right alongside the river. A marvelous location to hear music. I settle in and by the grace of G-d my spot soon gets shade from a nearby tree. Let me say that if I have any say in what heaven is like, it will include outdoor music festivals by the water's edge. With shade. Of course, in heaven I won't have to wait on line to use the Porta-potty, and arch-angel Dominic (those of you from the vicinity of Avenue J know to whom this refers) will be there to serve me freshly made pizza. But this was a pretty good earthly approximation of the heavenly music festival.

After about half an hour I was starting to wonder how I was ever going to find the friends I was planning to meet at the festival when up walks my friend Charles with his wife Lori and kids - a miracle, given the huge size of the festival. We settle in and are joined a bit later (aided by cell phone reconnaissance) by our other friend Sherry, her husband Ken and cousin Seth, and her mother. We proceed to spend the afternoon each cycling in and out of this base camp spot while also tending to other needs. Lori and Charles take turns entertaining their antsy kids. Sherry & crew move up closer for a while then wheel Joyce (her mom) back to their RV. I disappear to hear some bands at other stages and browse through the crafts booths. We all wind up back together to see David Amram, who is an excellent and inventive musician, but whose patter leaves something to be desired. In between songs he made negative comments about, among other things, various styles of music ("suitable for torturing prisoners"), the current state of tambourine playing, people who don't get counterpoint in music, and Western Europeans for what they did to the native Americans. Oh, and he advised the crowd not to listen to the negative people you come across in life.

During the afternoon I watched as Charles entertained his kids with balls, stuffed animals, snacks, and just about everything he could think of including little xylophone mallets that younger son Seth proceeded to clock his dad in the head with. Mid afternoon Charles and Lori ran out of parenting patience and headed down to Yonkers to rendezvous with his parents on their boat. Hopefully they'll be back tomorrow.

The rest of us split up for a while in the late afternoon. Early in the day I had spotted a felafel stand and set my mind on felafel for dinner. I understand why they had the longest line in the food area - it was really good felafel. For dessert I dug out a packet of Powerbar Energy Gels out of my backpack. This was a free sample Valerie had gotten some time ago. If your food tastes run towards jellyfish embryos with raspberry jam I'd highly recommend these things. Otherwise, maybe not so much.

I also trekked back to the campsite to take a little break. Camping next to me were two middle-aged guys, both of whom were the kind of characters that have been Joe Pesci's bread and butter for decades now. They had with them a toddler, who was clearly the child of one of them, since every time the guys were out of the kid's sight he would yell "Daaaaaaaaad!" endlessly until Daddy returned, or at least responded with, "Yo, Nick, I'm right heeere!"

After cooling off a little I headed down to the Dance stage to catch Buckwheat Zydeco, a perennial favorite of mine. I haven't mentioned my back problems here, but what kind of weird back problem do I have?? -- five minutes of sitting and I'm in pain, but an hour of dancing to zydeco and two nights sleeping in a tent are no problem.

I caught up with Sherry and crew at the main stage for Steve Earle. A very nice solo set on what turned out to be a beautiful evening. I lay down on the grass, watched the sky and let the music roll over me. I don't agree with all of his politics (a couple of songs that I feel were overly sympathetic to the so-called Palestinians) but he's undeniably a gifted singer-songwriter.

After saying goodnight to Ken and Sherry I headed back to the camping area (the RV area where they were staying is in a different section of the park) where I found a little jam session going on in the picnic pavilion. After listening for a few minutes I unsheathed my mighty accordion and joined in. At peak we had about five guitarists, three banjo players, a bongo/flautist, a harmonica player, some singers, and me. Oh, and an even weirder instrument for a while - a melodica. There was one woman who kept bringing up songs to sing. "Do you know this one It's an a cappella number." She'd then proceed to sing solo. Don't get me wrong, she had a nice voice, but she wasn't quite grokking the concept of a group jam session.

Anyway, about midnight I started to lose focus so I put the King of Instruments to bed and headed for my tent. Aided by a dose of some suspicious cough medicine (OK, it was bourbon in a reused cough medicine bottle) I was soon asleep with the goal of getting up early and kayaking in the morning.

Clearwater Trip Day 1

I had cleverly arranged a meeting at my company’s office in Columbia, MD Friday afternoon in order to give myself a head start on heading up to NY. Unfortunately, the meeting ran a little late and I hit horrendous traffic for the first 100 miles, yes, 100 miles, of the trip, so I found myself blasting up the Garden State Parkway trying to figure out if I was going to make it to the campground before dark. After briefly considering a hotel I pressed on, making only the briefest of stops along the way, and made it to Harriman State Park just about at sunset. Having not wanted to waste daylight time changing I was still wearing a suit. In fact, in homage to the Men In Black type work our folks in Columbia do, I was wearing my black suit. Losing the jacket and tie, I proceeded to set up my tent in what was still a most formal fashion, much to the bewilderment of the folks in the adjacent campsite.

Lake Welch campground has a couple of unusual attributes: all of the tent sites are wooden platforms. This is nice in that everyone gets a level, flat, dry site. I could see a downside if it’s windy though – there’s really no way to stake down your tent. The other thing I noticed about the campground was the large raccoon population. Once it got dark they were out in force, roaming the campground in such numbers that I thought I was imagining things until I’d flick on my headlamp and catch the reflections in their eyes.

I must admit that despite 20 years in Virginia I still have a bias against the South. It was nice to be in a campground with zero pickup trucks and no Southern accents. My fellow campers may have been just as rednecky as anyone, but I didn’t get that creepy Deliverance feeling I sometimes get camping back home. People up north here seem to invest less in over-the-top camping setups too – fewer mega-tents, canopies, campground-rattling sound systems, and extensive camping furniture. I swear, sometimes I see people camping with enough gear for an entire Army brigade. I guess that’s where the pickup truck comes in.

Oh, and I really like the new New York license plate. It looks a lot like the ones from when I was a kid.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Brokeback Kayak

My back has been killing me for days. It's a combination of doing things that aggravate it (running), not doing enough of things that help it (stretching) and things that just can't be good (cross-country flights in the middle seat seated next to Jabba the Hutt). Today I decided I'd rest it, which meant skipping my AM bootcamp class. I think I may need to get a better understanding of what it means to rest, however, as 6 PM found me at Columbia Island Marina as usual, ready to hit the water - after some extra back stretches. How wise was it to load the 50 lb. boat onto the car and spend a couple of hours paddling and rolling? Well, to tell you the truth I felt better when I got off the water then when I started. I'm a firm believer that, absent significant pain, movement is better than immobilization for healing muscle problems.

After getting off the water and having dinner with the kayakers I still had some time to kill before picking David up from his video master class, so I went and had a beer at a bar in Clarendon. Unfortunately, the threatened thunderstorms finally hit and I got soaked as I dashed the three blocks from the bar to the studio.

Morals of the story: (a) activity beats inactivity; (b) stretching helps a great deal; (c) Advil and Belgian beer is an excellent combination, and (d) like it or not, I think I can't really be a runner anymore.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Farewell to Frank

Today a memorial service was held for Frank Baxter, longtime owner and scion of the founder of Jack's Boathouse in Georgetown. Frank passed away last November. The service, held on the docks at Jack's, was informal but heartfelt. Those of us in attendance: customers, friends, relatives, people from other boathouses, various river people, family, and current Jack's management, each stepped forward to give our reminiscences and tributes. I offered an anecdote relating to Frank's incredible knowledge of and oneness with the river.

Jack's became my paddling home shortly after I started kayaking in '99. Frank was a great guy, even though I now realize there was far more to him than I even knew - hidden behind a gruff and reticent exterior. Frank, you'll be missed.

[Note: The overhead shot of the boathouse is from a rally years ago when Jack's was in danger of being steamrollered to make way for a restaurant barge. I am in the photo in the "rasta" red/yellow/green kayak (my first boat!) near the lower right corner of the photo]

Friday, March 19, 2010

The river screamed my name

This morning the office called softly to me while the river screamed my name. I simply could not spend another beautiful, precious Spring day indoors and so I took today off and hit the water. The Potomac is on its way back down to normal from last week's wacky 14 foot flood stage level, and so I wasn't sure what I'd find when I put in. I figured at worst I'd be able to paddle the narrow, protected Boundary Channel, and indeed I started out in that direction after completing the comical contortion act required to zip my rear zipper dry suit without assistance (I consider it part of my warm-up). There were signs of Spring life all the way up the channel - wood ducks and geese on the water, herons on shore. Some turtles, still sluggish from the cold water, let me paddle right up to them.

The river itself indeed had some noticeably high current, but nothing unmanageable or dangerous. I headed up the Virginia shoreline to just below Three Sisters Islands, then crossed over to the DC side to see how the Georgetown boathouses were faring. Washington Canoe Club, which had been flooded just a few days ago, looked to be drying out pretty well. Potomac Boat Club looked in good shape too. The docks at Jacks, on the other hand, looked like they had sustained some damage either from the recent flood or from the freezing temps this Winter (I understand the owners left the docks in place all Winter). The ramp from the shore to the docks looked broken and it looks like some of the supports for the docks themselves had lost their buoyancy. The flow of the river around the pillars of Key Bridge just below Jack's created some weird micro-currents, which gave me a chance to test out the effect of the skeg I installed in my kayak over the Winter. I had been worried as to whether it would have the desired effect, since it sits a little forward of where most skegs go (necessitated by the fact that I was retrofitting it through the rear hatch and could reach back only so far). It worked fine. I lowered it and suddenly the stern was locked in place. Great!

I crossed back over to the Virginia side to start the trip back to Columbia Island, but noticed some goings-on at Thompsons Boat Center and so headed back across to the DC side to take a look. They had a crane truck there lifting their ramps into place. I hope they finish today, as Ted is supposed to row there tomorrow.

The trip downriver was fast thanks to the current. I noticed a lot of debris high on the shore - the river must really have jumped its banks last week. Back at Columbia Island I tore off my dry suit as fast as I could - it's hot wearing the darn thing when it's 70 degrees out! - and headed for a delicious lunch at Cosi in Ballston. A very nice morning.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Half Mile

I have been getting excited by the somewhat warmer temps and longer days. So Monday I decided to go running in the morning for the first time in what feels like forever. My hope was that there had been sufficient melting on the W&OD trail to make it runnable. It was already getting light when I headed out the door at 6:20 – a nice change from the depths of winter. A brief toddle across the ice at Mad Manor park got me to blissfully clear (for the most part) blacktop on the trail. I was thrilled! Unfortunately, my excitement was short-lived, for it turned out that only about ½ mile of the trail was passable. I guess the heat from the highway helped with melting, for the trail got completely snowy and icy starting at milepost 4 – just where it veers away from the road. Well, a half mile of trail is better than none at all, so I just ran that stretch again and again until I reached my desired distance. It was nice to be exercising outside for a change. I’m glad I took the opportunity when I did, since more snow is in the forecast for tomorrow: not enough to make the trail skiable, but probably enough to return even my little section to unrunnability.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Playing in the snow

It's easy to be seduced into staying indoors in the winter. On those cold, dark mornings, why not exercise in the warmth of the basement, TV and Hulu at hand to provide entertainment, nothing heavier than a T-shirt and shorts required? Being a cold wimp, I often give in to this logic, however I do remind myself from time to time that the outdoors offers rewards to offset frozen fingers and runny noses.

Yesterday we had another near-record snowfall here in DC. The official measure at National Airport was about 18", however I can easily measure over two feet at places around the house - particularly where there was still snow on the ground from Wednesday's snowfall (what is this, Michigan??). It's not often that Northern Virginia is this skiable and I've been taking advantage of it. Wednesday morning I went out cross-country skiing for about an hour before heading to work, and yesterday some friends and I did about 3 1/2 hours on the W&OD trail.

I have a couple of friends in the neighborhood who, like me, are XC skiers. I arranged to meet them down at the trail. In checking Facebook I discovered that my friends Gail & Chris, who live a few miles away, were also planning on skiing, so I extended the plans to meet up with them further along the trail at the Bluemont Park caboose (for those not familiar, the W&OD is a rails-to-trails trail along the old Washington & Old Dominion railroad right of way, and it's dotted here and there with railroad artifacts). Amazingly, our plans to meet up at various points along the trail worked and the five of us, kind of cajoling each other along, wound up skiing quite a distance. We were the first ones out on the trail. It was quite neat to enjoy the park in its pristine state, but cutting a trail through the deep snow was work - and I was often in front. There wasn't much wildlife out and about, though Jen did spot a pileated woodpecker. There weren't many people out and about either - it was still snowing and I think most people were just hunkered down at home. We did see a few other skiers, a pair of people on snow shoes, and a few brave souls out walking and taking photos.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Joys of the Trail on a Cold and Windy Morning

How easy it is to be seduced into exercising only indoors in the winter. When it's cold and dark and even the trip to the sidewalk to retrieve the morning paper is uncomfortable, who wants to venture outside? The erg machine beckons, in a warm and cozy room with TV to help pass the time.

Still, there is a certain special something to exercising outside. A chance to reconnect with the outdoors, to see what the planet is up to. I love the fact that the trail's appearance evolves with every season. This time of year this means the peculiar beauty of winter. The marshy spot by the side of the trail was frozen, with some cattails sticking up out of the ice. It was too windy for the morning mist to form on the Bluemont Park field, but the little waterfall was running strongly, the water tumbling past some snow remaining from last week’s storm. The air was cold, and it was incredibly windy. I had to keep my head down at times to keep the wind from stinging my face. However, I also had to keep my eyes on the trail, on the lookout for the occasional icy spots. Even in winter there is birdlife along the W&OD trail. A high point of this morning’s run was spotting two cardinals in a tree, their bright red plumage a stark contrast to the otherwise grey morning.

Was it as pleasant as a springtime run? No … well, maybe. Each season has its charms, and while winter is a little more uncomfortable, it’s still a pleasure to be out experiencing the variety of the seasons.