Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jennifer's Birthday Paddle

To celebrate my friend Jen's milestone birthday a group of us decided to join her in paddling from Fletcher's Boathouse in DC down to Belle Haven Marina south of the Wilson Bridge. This 13 mile trip is not exactly "bucket list" material, but it's unusual to do the whole stretch at once (we chose to do a one way trip with a car shuttle return) and was a good choice given the vagaries of March weather and our beginning-of-season level of endurance. For better or for worse (and it really was a little of both) my car wasn't one of the ones being left at the Belle Haven end and so I was able to get a slightly later start and meet the group at Fletcher's.

Weather made the trip iffy until the last minute (thunderstorms in the forecast). I didn't get my stuff together until Saturday morning and so didn't really think through that I'd need my change of clothes at the Belle Haven end, where I wouldn't have my car. Fortunately I realized this in time and at the last second grabbed my clothes from the car, stuffed them into a Hefty bag and shoved them into the hatch of my kayak.Given the complexity of moving cars, boats and people around (Tom's logistal instructions were eleven steps long) it's remarkable that the group of nine of us was on the water by about 8:30.

The first section of this trip is a really pretty section of the Potomac. It seems so far removed from the city that it's always a shock to come around the bend of the river above Georgetown and see the buildings of Rosslyn and DC come into view. We didn't quite have the river to ourselves as fishermen were out in force, but it was still tranquil in the morning mist. As we approached Georgetown the river activity picked up: high knee racers from the Washington Canoe Club, a few other kayakers, and then the sculls. Lots and lots of sculls. I guess this is high season for crew teams and for a stretch down the river it was like being in a kayaking version of the old Frogger video game as our group repeatedly had to zigzig out of the way of the rowers, who generally assume they have the right of way over all craft and creatures.We followed the DC side of the river down to the Cherry Blossoms, where we rafted up for a few photos. Below Hains Point we crossed the river over to the Virginia side, crossing close enough to National Airport to watch the planes but staying far enough away to avoid the fumes. We made a brief pit stop at the Washington Sailing marina where no one look askance at a bunch of people in wet neoprene trooping over to the restrooms.

At this point the weather was starting to kick up a bit as forecast. The rain didn't bother us - we were dressed for the water - and the wind was at our backs, helping us along as we paddled past the soon-to-be-closed Mirant power plant, the Old Town Alexandria waterfront (where we saw the Sequoia, once the Presidential yacht), and finally under the Wilson Bridge. Once we were past the Wilson Bridge Belle Haven came into view and before we knew it we were pulling our boats up onto the carpeted launch ramp.Belle Haven is a crowded little dump of a marina (that is to say, it has character) and there was a group of teenagers just getting off the water from a volunteer river cleanup event as we arrived, plus at this point at was raining fairly hard and so there was lots of chaos as we loaded boats (four onto Brian's truck, two onto Bela's car, one onto Suzanne's car, plus two onto Nelson & Caroline's truck) and gear and ducked into the lovely restrooms to change. I had to keep a close eye on my Hefty bag to keep it from being carted away with the volunteer group's trash.

Once we had everything squared away we all piled into the cars and headed to a nearby Indian restaurant where we dug into the buffet lunch. Alas, we were split between two tables and so didn't get to stick a candle into a galub jamon and sing Happy Birthday to Jen.And here's where the bad part of not having had my car with me came into play. I had ridden over to the restaurant with Suzanne but forgot to move my Hefty bag to another car and so when she took off - she had to get back to Baltimore for an evening commitment - my paddling clothes went with her.

Yvonne, Tom, and I piled into Bela's car and eventually made it back to Fletcher's despite the fact that Bela (who lives in Annapolis and doesn't know the DC area that well) was receiving contradicting directions from Tom, Yvonne, his GPS and me. There we did a final swap of boats and gear, gave Jen her final birthday wishes and then all headed for home.

Now to begin thinking about what kind of similar trip I should plan for my similar upcoming milestone birthday, which is just months away ...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Yogic Hiking Meetup #1

I am leery of Meetup groups. For one thing, they tend to skew towards a young demographic. For another, whatever their stated purpose, many of them seem to have an undercurrent of being singles groups. Two new groups popped up recently, each of which explicitly countered at least one of these concerns and which therefore caught my interest. One is an outdoor activities group for "experienced life veterans", that is to say, middle-aged people. That group had a bike ride this weekend. My family forgot that I had signed up for this event and scheduled me to do other things at the same time - notably, to pick David up from his SAT (no worries - family comes first). So, I'll have to defer until later to report on this Meetup.
Great Falls

The second group is called "Mindful Yogi Hikers" and hosts events which combine yoga, meditation, and hiking - exactly my cup of chai tea. The organizer of the group is a guy my age, married with three kids, so I figured at worst there'd be at least one other person my age there. I also figured he wasn't out to create a singles vibe.

Today was the first Mindful Yogic Hike, on the Billy Goat Trail at Great Falls, MD. I can't believe I had never done this hike before. What a great trail - lots of fun rock scrambles, and a better view of the falls than on the Virginia side. A whole bunch of people signed up, but only five of us showed - the rest probably dissuaded by the coolness of the morning combined with an early start on Daylight Savings morning. The attendees included the organizer (Fred), me, and three women ranging in age from 30-ish to 40-ish: two Asian women who were both very quiet and one woman who seemed to have lived in every country in the world. As I figured, with the exception of the organizer the group was indeed younger, but it didn't really matter: we were all shared the bond of being hikers and yogis.

After a quick detour to the falls overlook we hit Billy Goat Section A. This trail, while not as strenuous as Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park (the best known rock scramble hike in the area), is nicely challenging. We stopped a couple of times along the way to contemplate the scenery - mindfully, of course. As with my recent West Virgina trip, the day warmed up and we shed layers at each stop. At the first stop I traded in my fleece hat for a ball cap. At the second I packed away my jacket and gloves. By our third break we were all hiking naked.

Just kidding. This isn't the Naked Yogic Libertine Hiking Meetup (note to self: Google "Naked Yogic Libertine Meetups").

As we headed back we ran into more and more people on the trails. The park had a feeling of joyful rebirth, filled as it was with people emerging from winter hibernation to enjoy a warm early spring afternoon. When our group returned to the parking area we all got out our yoga mats and did a quick practice - some sun salutations, tree pose among the trees, and so on. Then we sat and meditated a bit. Slowly the group members melted away to their other commitments. I was the last person there besides Fred: the experience of sitting in the sunshine, looking out over the river was one which was hard to leave. Finally I hit the road for home, feeling like I had just spent half a day totally removed from my regular life. Part of it was the new location, part the new people. I returned home better prepared to face the (unfortunately abundant) stresses of my everyday life. Namaste.

NOVAGO Winter Event

Last weekend I had a choice: attend the kayaker group planning meeting or go to the NOVAGO (geocaching) winter event with Ted. I'm starting to get a little wistful about Ted's imminent departure for college; there won't be too many more of these chances to do little outings together. So ... I opted for Ted and NOVAGO.

It was a cold February morning. We arrived at Burke Lake Park to find the event well underway. The funny thing is that everyone was crammed into a too small pavilion. It was like a rush hour subway train. I think people were huddled in there to get a little protection from the cold, not that a picnic shelter provides much in that regard.

Part of the event was a geocaching bike ride around the lake. My bike isn't capable of handling dirt trails, but fortunately we have a free el cheapo mountain bike which came free when we adopted our lizard Cooper (long story). So, after schmoozing with the cachers for a while Ted and I set out with some others. He and I had previously hiked the trail around Burke Lake and had found all the caches, but things change over time - there were a lot of new caches to be found. I had a blast bombing along the trail (I think I need to get a mountain bike). Unfortunately, not long into our ride Ted got a flat tire, bringing our caching run to an end. Thanks to a suggestion from one of our party, Ted didn't walk all the way back. Instead, he made for a nearby park exit and waited by the road while I rode back and got the car.

On the way home we stopped at the shopping center where I used to stop for a snack on my way to class when I was in the doctoral program at GMU. The bagel place where I used to stop is long gone, but another deli has taken its place. We had a nice lunch together - matzoh ball soup (a rarity in Virginia) for me, and a burger for Ted. We also stumbled upon a Boy Scout store in the same shopping center, which was heaven for Ted. A nice outing.