Saturday, June 25, 2011

Great Hudson River Revival, Days 2 & 3

I sleep pretty well in a tent and so I wake up feeling refreshed even though it’s pretty early and I didn't get all that much sleep. The morning is dry and cool enough for me to put on a light fleece jacket. I whip up a breakfast that’s much like home, save for the Starbucks Via Brew instant coffee in place of my usual cup. Oh, coffee deities, please do not strike me down for drinking instant!

One of the great aspects of Clearwater is its link to the river. The festival’s raison d’etre is raising awareness of the Hudson’s ecology and environment. The festival takes place on a peninsula jutting out into the Hudson. You can see the river from most of the park and you can even watch one of the stages from the water. There’s also a “working waterfront” area where people can experience the river directly: row, paddle and go for a sail on the sloop Clearwater. In keeping with the festival theme, I start my day by hitting the water in my kayak. The car-top launch is just down the hill from the campground and so just a few minutes after finishing my last sip of coffee I’ve got the boat in the water and am ready to go. There's another car at the launch with two CLC Shearwaters (the same kayak I have) on it - two beautifully constructed wooden boats. I never see the owner, but by fate I notice a post of his later on Facebook and needless to say we are now "Friends".

Last year I paddled around the peninsula on which Croton Point Park sits. This year I head in the opposite direction, heading north across the bay and up the shoreline. The river is majestic, with the Hudson Highlands towering above the west shore. The Hudson is much more of a working river than the Potomac, so there’s commercial boat traffic, but the river is so wide that it’s miles away. My side of the river is quiet, save for the occasional commuter train.

At the end of my paddle I stop at the working waterfront and check out the displays, which include an antique ice boat – a catamaran designed to be used when the river is frozen. I also talk to the people at the Hudson River Water Trail booth. Then I grandstand a little bit, doing rolls and braces just off shore where the crowd can see. Then it’s time to head back, dry off and have a little lunch before heading into the fray of the festival.

My first target at the festival is the Klezmatics at the Sloop Stage. I get there a little early and so see the end of Buskin & Battaeu’s set. I don’t know these guys but they’re good – and apparently Sherry knows of them since she’s there. She's torn but ultimately decides not to stay for the Klezmatics; before she leaves she clues me in as to where to find her at the main stage area. The Klezmatics are great as always. This set is a mix of klezmer and the folkie stuff they do. Somewhat mellow, as they are saving the high energy numbers for their set at the dance stage. Having lived in Virginia for two decades, the demographics of a New York folk festival surprise me – I think the audience for the Klezmatics at the Sloop Stage had a higher percentage of Jews than Kol Nidre Services at my temple in Virginia. I shouldn’t have been surprised: on Saturday, the MC had introduced Janis Ian as being “a mensch”, an expression you’d be less likely to hear in an introduction at, say, Wolf Trap. As Sherry said, “we’re home.”

After the Klezmatics’ set (BTW, Lorin Sklamberg has the same accordion I do!) I headed over to the main (Rainbow) stage to see Suzanne Vega. She was performing with a guitarist who did some neat looping to create a very layered sound. Good stuff, even though she kept forgetting her songs! I meant to go over to the Hudson Stage after that to see Chris Smither but wound up yakking with Ken, Sherry and their friends and wound up staying at the Rainbow Stage to see the Indigo Girls. I wasn’t a big Indigo Girls fan in their heyday, but they put on a really enjoyable set. They were playing with a violinist and a really good keyboardist/accordionist named Julie Wolf (good enough that I remembered her name). I next caught the beginning of the Driveby Truckers, but I wasn’t that taken with them and so headed over to the dance tent to see the Klezmatics – that’s right, two sets of the Klezmatics in the same day! At the dance tent you can really get up close to the stage. Unfortunately, my injured leg kept me from doing much dancing so I swayed for a while then went off to the side to sit. I ended the day by seeing Justin Townes Earle – that’s right, Steve’s boy. I have his latest CD and I must say that he’s an excellent live performer as well.

I just bought a new (used) camera which works (via an adapter) with my Canon lenses from the 1970’s and over the course of the day I further entertained myself taking pictures. Got some good ones.

As on Saturday, I skipped the “Clearwater Generations” set in favor of falafel. By this point the food vendors were starting to pack up. The falafel place sold me a heaping plate of leftovers – falafel, carrots, some dolma, and tahini – for half price. I also got a small ice cream and a cup of (brewed) coffee. Then it was time for the hike up to the campsite. Boy, my leg was hurting – it was a slow walk up the hill, with several breaks. There was a much smaller version of the jam session going on – just three people – which I decided to skip. I was saturated with music and I wanted to get an early start the next day.

I wake up fairly early on Monday - around 6 AM. Basically, it's just breakfast (two Via Brews this time), pack up and hit the road. Uneventful trip home, save for my GPS realllly wanting me to take the GW Bridge rather than the Tappan Zee.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Great Hudson River Revival, Day 1

Like too many of my posts these days, this one starts with a nightmarish traffic jam. After an uneventful and quick drive from DC to Croton-on-Hudson to attend the Great Hudson River Revival / Clearwater Festival, it took an hour and a half to exit from Rt 9A and drive into the festival grounds. No matter – I had expected some degree of backup and was mentally prepared. Eventually I made it, set up my tent and headed down to the music. Wow, what a lineup. There are seven stages at the festival and there’s always more to see than there is time to see it. Saturday I caught Janis Ian, David Bromberg, Arlo Gurthrie, Toshi Reagon and Brooklyn Qawwali Dance Party. And just like last year, in this huge sea of people I had no problem finding Sherri and Ken. By the time Arlo’s set ended I was pretty beat – too much so to hang around and see the “generations” set (parent/child combinations such as Pete and Tao Seeger …). Plus I have to admit that this idea is too mushy for me. Instead I headed for the food area for another of my favorite Clearwater activities, procurement and consumption of the falafel sandwich. Yum! Then it was up the hill to the campsite, stopping along the way to call home and watch the sun set over the Hudson River. I figured I might turn in early and indeed I lay down in my tent at about 9:30 and immediately fell asleep. Thirty minutes later, though I was up – awakened by the sound of the Saturday night campsite jam session. I had participated last year and I say with all modesty that I was the best accordionist there. I just couldn’t resist joining in again. So, out came the accordion and over to the jam I went. It was being run by the same guy as last year and in fact there were a number of other familiar faces, all of whom remembered me. After all, when you’re the best accordionist there, you tend to make an impression. And what an interesting lineup of musicians: guitars (of course), acoustic bass, a guy who played bongos, flute and tin whistle, a violinist, a violist, a French horn player, a couple of banjos, and harmonica. Well, to make a long story short I jammed until close to 1 AM, at which point  I was literally having trouble standing up any longer. This was for two reasons. First, having been awake for nearly 21 hours (save for the 30 minute nap) I was just exhausted. Second, I injured myself running last week (a shin splint, I think) and my leg was starting to give way. So, away went the accordion and I headed back to my tent (which I had trouble finding because I was so damn tired). I shut off my alarm, which I had previously set for 5 AM so I could get in some early morning kayaking, and figured I’d start Sunday “whenever”.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Patuxent Water Trail Day 3

When we pulled the boats up on Saturday we all agreed that it was too tight an area for us to all load at once in the morning. We’d have to pull one boat out at a time, load, launch, and repeat. Needless to say, 6 AM Sunday found us all crammed down in the launch area at once, busily loading gear while tripping over each other and the kayaks. A brief but intense rain shower rolled in while we were finishing up, causing us to dash about in a yet more manic fashion. Amazingly, this comedic ballet did not result in any mishaps, nor (as far as I know) did any of our slapstick maneuvers in an area thick with poison ivy yield any major rash problems. Against all odds, we actually got under way exactly at 0700 - ten minutes earlier than on Saturday. I wondered if the shower was going to mean a day of paddling in the rain, but fortunately this was not to be. The shower rolled out as quickly as it had rolled in and conditions were dry the rest of the day.

On this wider section of the river we didn’t have the current helping us, the wind was against us, and we were all a little “experienced”, as we put it, so it felt like slower going. I was paddling with a new Greenland paddle, one which seemed more given to cavitation than my old paddle, and so I spend a lot of the day focusing on adjusting my stroke to gain efficiency. Being the only one there paddling a plastic boat, I think I also may have been working the hardest to keep my speed up. However, being towards the young end of the group agewise, I was darned if I was going to be the one in the back, so I just paddled harder, as evidenced in the big blister which appeared on my right hand mid-day. 

Heading for Jefferson Patterson Park
A warm, calm day on a wide river isn’t all bad. In fact, without the previous two days to compare it too it would have seemed quite spectacular. However, we were getting into the more developed, more heavily traveled section of the river and it began to feel like a little bit of a slog. We took a welcome lunchtime break at Jefferson Patterson Park, which was hosting Children’s Day at the Farm. A typical paddling break involves squatting on a rock at the shoreline and gnawing at a half melted PowerBar, but here we hiked up into the and explored a really neat local festival – replete with farm animals, funnel cakes, old tractors, the works. Oh, and the most delicious cold Diet Cokes ever. 

While we sat and ate lunch a couple of our group started cooing over a horse. “It looks like a Belgian, but miniature.” I know nothing about horses – where I grew up they were something the police used for crowd control and livery hacks used to ferry tourists around Central Park*. I can tell a brown horse from a white one, and maybe a large one from a small one. The finer points of equine breeds are completely out of my range of knowledge, however. So I was impressed, as is always the case when people demonstrate mastery of what seem to me to be obscure subjects. Jen, who took dressage lessons in college – dressage, for pete’s sake! In Greenwich Village, where I went to college, you could probably find cross-dressage lessons, but that’s different – went over and talked with the owner. Turns out the horse was a Haflinger, which, sure enough is somewhat like a smaller Belgian. So there.

After a longer than planned break we hit the water for the final stretch to Solomons. The Route 4 bridge proved to be another one of those never-getting-any-closer landmarks. I worked on my mental focus. My natural tendency at this point in a trip is to fixate on getting to the end and stop noticing the present. But I kept guiding my thoughts back to where I was at that moment, appreciating the breadth of the river, the way my leg muscles felt when I got the stroke right, the look of the group spread out over the water, the sky. 

At last we rounded Point Patience into Solomons, which is a quaint little waterfront town. After hitting the beach just before 3 PM we mucked around a little bit – finding a public restroom, strolling, hauling gear, enjoying the still-cool sodas Ralph had in a cooler in his truck. Somehow the shuttle plans worked and everyone and every boat made it onto a car. Mike’s brother Butch, who was in town for his 50th high school reunion, arrived with Mike’s van and gave Jen and me a ride back to where we had left our car. The van ride was satisfyingly long – made me feel we had really covered some distance. 

Jen and I had learned our lesson. We turned on the traffic report as we pulled out of Selby’s Landing, making sure we were not heading into another traffic jam. Truth be told, listening to the news was a little jarring after three days off the grid but I guess all good things have to come to an end. As we drove home I felt like we were descending from the special world of the river back into the mundane. Jen and I vowed to go back another time so we could cover the few miles we missed at the outset. It’s good to know the Pax and I will see each other again. 

You can read Ralph's trip log here (includes links to everyone's pictures).

A short album of pix is here.

Total Distance: 21.9 miles

Three day distance: 47.5 miles (for Jen and me, YMMV)

*Actually, this is not 100% true. I have ridden horses in both Brooklyn and Queens.

Patuxent River Trail Day 2

Setting Out, Day 2
I would have bet against it, but 7 AM indeed found the group on the river ready to go. I had popped awake at 5 AM, having slept (or at least having been horizontal in bed) for longer than any night in recent memory. The night had been cool, in the high 50’s, and quite conducive to sleep - at least for those of us with sleeping bags. A few people had packed for summer weather and felt the overnight chill. Suzanne wound up sleeping bundled up in all her clothes and paddling jacket to stay warm. As light dawned I stumbled out of my tent and wandered down to the boats to get my breakfast. I had left my breakfast food in the kayak, figuring it was as safe from critters in the hatch as in the tent. Pausing to take in the scene, I reveled in the glow of water in the dawn light, punctuated by puffs of mist. Back up on the bluff, Ralph had coffee up. The early risers gulped down a quick breakfast and then we shook the laggards awake.

I’m glad I had test-packed my boat before the trip. Both mornings required quick loading and it was good to know where to put everything so that it would fit and preserve the boat’s trim.

The section of the river up at White Oak Landing is quite lovely, being small and largely devoid of development We proved a compatible bunch on the water – all about the same speed and skills. Rich, a fast long distance paddler, paddled way out ahead as he is wont to do, but kept in radio (and usually visual) contact with us. Saturday morning was for me the most peaceful stretch of the whole trip. Ralph knows the river very well, and in addition to the natural beauty he filled us in on some of the history of the area. Paddling through this tranquil spot it was hard to image it crawling with British warships and American gunboats as it was in 1812.
King's Landing

We made a stop at King’s Landing where we were able to refill our water supplies (and use a flush toilet, too). We marveled at the pool – obviously maintained and ready for swimmers, but closed and locked mid-day on a June Saturday. Perhaps budget cuts have taken their toll. This stop had originally been planned as a lunch break but we started so early and made so much progress that most of us decided to hold out until we got to Maxwell Hall and so took just an extended leg-stretch and snack break.

Our destination was said to be near the Chalk Point power plant. We’d been able to see this plant in the distance from the observation tower at White’s Landing, and it loomed in the distance as we paddled onward. Distances on the water can be tricky: at the start of the day the power plant didn’t seem all that far away, but after half a day of paddling it seemed not an inch closer. That kind of visual effect can really mess with you if you let it. After yet more time on the water the plant finally entered the foreground of our view and we knew we were close. About this time Greg hailed us on the radio saying he and Jenny were out on the water, had spotted Rich (who was out front as usual) and that he’d be joining us. 
Chalk Point Power Plant

No one in the group had used this campsite before and so it took a little finding. I led us to the listed GPS coordinates for the site, a point at which there was a small beach and a trail leading up to a cleared area with a picnic table. We were also greeted by snakes, ticks and poison ivy. Rich reassured us about the snakes – yes, this species bites, but no, they’re not venomous. Oh, and and let me not forget the constant drone of the power plant, which sat just across the creek from us. Suffice it to say that this site, while still lovely, was less idyllic than White Oak. We pulled the boats up above the tide mark, squeezing them into a pretty small area, and then we dragged our gear up the hill to the campsite.It was a warm afternoon so after settling in a number of us went for a swim to refresh ourselves.


When you camp you pretty quickly get into a routine built around food and shelter. In fact, the forced consideration of the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy is to me one of the appeals of camping. You have to be in the moment taking care of basic needs in a way which those of us in urban civilization rarely do. As such, we set to work establishing our campsite. Tents (some slightly impinging onto an equestrian trail), and a tarp went up and food came out. Saturday night was Suzanne’s turn to cook for our little sub-group. She had planned a different variant chicken hash, this one with curry and Trader Joe’s multigrain mix. I once again helped out with my full range my major culinary skills, which include both opening cans and stirring. Before you know it we had a pretty tasty dinner, with enough extra to share with the larger group. Other folks ate a range of food, including MREs (pre-fab military field meals) and the Mountain House camping store equivalent. More wine was consumed, but alas there was no watermelon. There was no fire either, since the campsite lacked a fire ring. We subsequently realized this was because we weren’t really at the campsite. Al and Bob went out for a brief evening paddle and discovered the campsite proper was a little further into the creek. We were in the right park in the right neck of the woods, but not in exactly the right spot. Since we were all set up by the time we discovered this fact, we opted to stay put.

Saturday evening we took a brief walk through the park and I dashed into the woods to find one of several geocaches hidden in the park. Mostly, though, it was another evening of sitting back in our folding chairs and enjoying the (warmer) evening. While I had never met Al before, I knew from a mutual yogi friend that he was a yoga practitioner and indeed he spent some time during the evening doing yoga, including some rather impressive inversions. Motivated by this, I stretched a little too. After a relaxing evening we again turned in early with the goal of getting an early start again on Sunday. There was some noise overnight from the power plant - for example, we heard the shift change, but nothing too bad.
Total Distance: 18.9 miles

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Patuxent River Trail Day 1

This is the first of three segments about a weekend kayaking trip following the Patuxent River Water Trail for 50 miles from Queen Anne Landing to Solomons, Maryland. 


The trip started inauspiciously. Jen and I set out carpooling from Arlington to meet up with the group at the Queen Anne put-in but found ourselves stuck in a hideous traffic jam before we even made it out of Virginia. We got increasingly frustrated as the minutes ticked on, eating up the extra time we had built into our schedule, then the minutes required to get to the launch under the best of conditions. Well, actually I’m speculating when I say Jen got frustrated, since she displays that mid-West equanimity I find so perplexing. I grew up in a complaining culture. The New Yorker’s version of the Goldilocks story would have only two bears. “This porridge is too hot!” I get that. “This porridge is too cold!” I can sympathize with that. “Just right”? Never. Don’t people in Iowa know the meaning of the word “kvetch”? OK, maybe they don’t. Anyway, after a couple of hours of fuming (me) and mild vexation (Jen) we phoned the group and told them to launch without us. Ralph, the trip organizer, vectored us to another put-in downstream where we could catch up with the group. When Jen and I reached this “bail-in” point we realized we were almost at the terminus of the day’s paddle. Wanting to get more than a mile of paddling in, we went through the rigmarole of getting a parking pass then headed up river to intercept the group, which we did at their lunch-break point at Mt. Calvert. In the end, Jen and I paddled about 6.75 miles to the group’s 11.5.

Fifty miles in three days sounds like a lot, but in fact with cool weather and favorable tides it’s really only a half day of paddling per day. We reached our first campsite in the early afternoon. The campsite was a lovely setting: an open field, surrounded by trees on a bluff overlooking the water at one end. And an ancient, but maintained porta-potty. Each of us had our own individual tent, so in a jiffy we transformed the field into a little city comprising eight tents plus Ralph’s hammock. As we planned the next day’s paddling we realized we’d want to be on the water by 7 AM to take advantage of the tide, which led us to immediately go on “Drinking Savings Time”: drink, eat, and go to sleep an hour or two earlier than usual in order to get on the river that much earlier. Jen, Tall Tom, Suzanne and I coordinated on dinners. Friday night was Jen and my turn to cook – a delicious chicken hash-like mush (no actual hash was used in the preparation of this meal). We were done with dinner so early that we had time for a second round of drinking, after which we took a hike to a cool observation tower. “Caution: Tower Sometimes Attracts Bees & Wasps” said the sign at the base. Fortified with ample drink, we were not deterred by this warning and ascended the tower to find a magnificent view of the Patuxent River. After dinner we finished off the watermelon Ralph had somehow managed to transport in his kayak, made a few jokes at the expense of Rep. Anthony Weiner (the political scandal du jour), and planned the next day's paddling. I don’t have too many evenings like this in my life – hanging out in the wild, kicking back and relaxing with friends. I do cherish such moments and like to make them last. This one, however, came to an early end. We were all in our tents by about 9 PM. I read for a while then went to bed.