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.