Monday, May 28, 2012


At a job interview the other week I was asked whether I was a runner. I wasn't sure how to answer. I took up running when Teddy was an infant, since it was a way to exercise which could be done at the drop of a hat (baby's asleep? I'm going for a run!). Still, after eighteen years I think of myself as someone who runs rather than as a runner. In fact, when I gave up running entirely for a while while recovering from a herniated disk what I missed was not the running but the opportunity to start my day outdoors.

I've never been a distance runner. My normal morning run is about 5KM in length and I've never gone much further than this distance. As I reach the end of my runs I often think about whether I could push further, but I'm usually time-constrained and so have never explored greater distances. Today, despite (because of?) being a little fuzzy from having slept poorly, I decided it was time. I ran my 5K route, then turned around and immediately started running it again. I had no idea how far I'd get before quitting.

About a half mile into my second loop I started feeling like I was in an old Star Trek episode with my body playing the part of the Enterprise. 

Scotty: "Ay, Cap'n, the left iliotibial band is getting tight. She'll blow if we push her much further. And I don't like the feel of those quads, either."

Kirk: "Well, Scotty, what do you recommend?"

Scotty: "Cap'n, we have to drop out of warp and stretch for a litt'l bit."

Kirk: "Bones?"

McCoy: "Damn it, Jim. I'm a doctor, not an orthopedic surgeon!"

Spock: "That statement is not logical, doctor."
Kirk: "Very well, Mr. Scott. Go to impulse power and so some stretches."

On my second loop I wound up stopping to stretch three times - such is the sad orthopedic state of my body. However, I did complete a whole second loop for a full 10K distance - the furthest I have ever run. Along the way I kept myself going via all my usual deals with myself: Just make it to the Bluemont tennis courts, then you can stop if you need to. Just make it to the Custis Trail cutoff. To the waterfall. To the next mile marker.

I didn't set any speed records and wouldn't have done so even without the stretch breaks. In fact, by the end I was barely jogging, but I made it!

Where's the ibuprofen?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Paddling Thunder 2012

Last year I accidentally stumbled into the Rolling Thunder Rally. I went on one of my early Sunday morning paddles out of Columbia Island Marina, not thinking about how close it was to the Pentagon parking lot gathering point for the rally. This year I repeated the experience with the foreknowledge that I'd be running into the bikers.

My trip on the Potomac was uneventful save for the sound of a thousand Harley V-Twin engines roaring along the shore. The magic of the river is such that I could be aware both of a heron gliding noiselessly over the river - a pristine natural scene - while also being aware of the flow of Softtails, Electraglides, Sportsters, choppers, trikes, and bobbers along the GW Parkway.

After I got off the water I strolled through the LBJ Memorial Grove and over the footbridge to the Pentagon parking lot. Holy cow - thousands of bikers and their bikes all lined up for the event. Quite a scene. I was probably a little conspicuous, being the only guy there not in biker gear and being dripping wet besides.

I went home and picked up Valerie. We got to the McKinley Road overpass over I66 in time to see a huge contingent of bikes (so many that they closed the highway) go by.

Cool stuff.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Assateague Kayaking May 2012

"Can you see the real me, can ya', can ya'?"

The old Who song is blasting on XM radio as I crest the Bay Bridge. So, who is the real me? Is it the family man getting kids out the door to school this morning, loading the dishwasher, taking out the trash? Or is it the guy skimming east on Rt. 50, about to spend the weekend camping and paddling at the beach with friends? Or any one of several other versions of me? Sometimes it seems my life is made up of pieces from several different puzzles. Well, this much is revealed for sure: long drives give me too much time to ruminate.

I have an uneventful drive - just a little traffic here and there in DC and again through the traffic lights in Easton, Maryland. There was evidently some sort of classic car gathering out on the Eastern Shore this weekend and so I got entertainment all the way down Rt. 50, marveling at many Mustangs (including two nitrous injected monsters), a '71 Chevelle, a ’68 Camaro, and lots of other neat cars from my youth. This show is repeated on the way home: dragster Dodge Darts with big hood scoops, another couple of Chevelles, a Corvette Stingray. It's like bird-watching, but with cars.

I arrive at the campground at Assateague to find about half the group of fourteen already there. I had noticed that every body of water I had crossed along the way out  had whitecaps, and had felt the car getting pushed around by some pretty strong wind gusts. Well, the first thing I notice on getting out of the car is that I feel like I have stepped into a giant wind tunnel. It must be blowing near 30 MPH (a check of the Intellicast observation history confirms gusts of 25-30 MPH all weekend). I shout my hellos over the howl of the wind and the creaking and groaning of the nearby tents. Putting up tents in these conditions is no easy thing and so the group has adopted an Amish barn-raising approach to erecting the tents. Four or five people work on a tent at once, some holding the tent in place while the owner stakes it down, then all joining together to get it raised and secured against the wind. You can't put anything lightweight or empty - like an empty tent bag - down for even a second without it disappearing downwind. I imagine this is what erecting a tent in space would be like – everything must be tethered at all times. The group helps me with my beat-up old REI hexagonal tent, which goes up in a jiffy.

The afternoon activity is walking on the beach, followed by happy hour snacks and drinks (alcohol isn't allowed at this park so of course we stick to “iced tea”). Happy hour is followed by dinner - John G's veggie chili, with freshly grated cheese, scallions and chopped tomatoes on top. As the evening progressed the wind greows colder and colder and we all wind up bundled up in every layer we had - the fleece jackets come out, then the hats, and finally the gloves. The evening finishes with a planning pow-wow to decide on an alternative paddling plan, since the wind was forecast to continue into Saturday and we figured that Sinepuxent Bay was going to be too rough to paddle. I realize at bedtime that I had forgotten to bring my glasses and I don't like sleeping in my contact lenses, so at bed time I take out my contacts in the bath house and then stagger my nearsighted way back to my tent in the darkness. Fortunately I find the right tent! I bed down to the sound of the tent flapping against its poles and straining against its lines.

I wake up having slept pretty well despite the all night rattling and banging. I realize how sound a sound sleeper I am when I hear a lot of other people complain about disturbances during the night – campers returning late, cars driving around, the noise of the wind. I discover that some people use ear plugs when camping to lessen the impact of the noise. Me, I put my head down and I'm out. It turns out there *is* an upside to my sleep-deprived lifestyle! Exhaustion wins out over campground noise any time. 

We start the day with a simple and leisurely breakfast, after which we all pile into our cars and head over to Snow Hill to launch into the Pocomoke River. Snow Hill is a quaint little town, and we launch from the floating dock of the Pocomoke Canoe Company. At first the folks from the Canoe Co. are a little touchy that we're using their dock, but they're placated when several people go into the shop and buy t-shirts. By the time one of the guys comes over to chat with me about my wood boat he's quite friendly.

It takes a while to get a dozen people launched one at a time. Ralph's wife Beth isn't paddling, so we drop her off in Snow Hill where she plans spend some time setting up her new smart phone. Greg's wife Jenny is along on the trip too. She's an excellent kayaker but decided to skip paddling today and relax at the campsite instead. That leaves a paddling group consisting of: me, Ralph, Suzanne, Dick, John, Greg, Robert, Wanda, Jim, Al, Marla, and Mike.

The Pocomoke River
The Pocomoke is very protected and after the initial stretch we feel very little wind at all. It's a pretty little river, very primordial, though it gets pretty twisty as you get up it. Toward the end we start to wish we were in shorter, more maneuverable boats. Someone (Greg?) knows that the little birds we keep seeing are prothonotary warblers. Suzanne says that a prothonotary is another term for a court clerk. Could it be that birds have their own court system? What other birds have roles in the courtroom? States evidence terns? Barred owls (watch out for the disbarred owls!)? John jays? Can any species of bird become an attorney, or is it limited to vultures?

Where was I? Oh, yeah, kayaking.

We paddle 5.4 miles, take a lunch break at Porter’s Crossing Road, then turn around and head back. Along the way Greg intentionally, though without warning wet exits his boat to give someone a chance to practice leading a rescue. Al does an excellent job of talking Greg back into his boat. Once back on shore we try to go out for ice cream in Snow Hill but the place is closed, so instead we head back to Assateague. I have a cold Starbucks Frappucino in my cooler - it's gotten quite warm and it feels good when I pop one along the way as a pick-me-up. I also stop back near the campground to find a geocache.

Back at the campsite it gets chilly and windy again as the sun sets. We repeat yesterday's activities: a little happy hour, a walk along the beach. Then, it's time for the big potluck dinner (a tradition on Ralph’s trips). We all get busy cooking and have quite a feast: Moroccan chicken, a beef dish, shrimp salad, quinoa salad, pulled pork and slaw, and more. And of course, lots of desserts. We eat until the groaning of our folding chairs and the burbling of our tummies drowns out the tent noise. By the time we finish eating and getting cleaned up it's late. We chat for a while, experiment with Marla's most awesome Jedi bug zapping light saber then turn in.

Pot luck
Oh, how could I have gotten this far without mentioning the ponies? Assateague is of course famous for its wild ponies and they're present in the campground, particularly in the evenings. It's the darndest thing. You'll be sitting at your campsite and all of a sudden a couple of horses will walk by. If you're lucky, they'll keep on walking - we had some instances where a horse started to take interest in Marla's cooler.

At about 3 AM the wind comes back with a vengeance. Come 6 AM or so we crawl out of our tents and once again position ourselves in the lee of Jim’s big pickup truck to get a little shelter as we eat breakfast. It’s grey and there are intermittent rain sprinkles. I turn on my VHF radio to get the forecast, which calls for continued cloudiness and a chance of rain all day. Our plans had been to paddle inland somewhere on the way home, but the weather causes people to back out and decide to just head home. For my part, I can’t understand why people are hesitant to kayak in the rain. After all, when you’re dressed in neoprene and splash gear, what’s the problem with getting a little wet? Well, different strokes for different paddlers, I guess. I take one last look at the roiling ocean then head out.

Once I get inland the weather starts to brighten, with increasing bits of blue sky. When I see signs for the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge I head that way. I wind up doing a nice hike along the Key Wallace Trail. At a pond I come across a noisy deer. I have never heard a deer make noise before, but this one was quite vocal. It shrieked at me a number of times, despite the fact that I was way across the pond and posed no danger. I also get a pretty close look at a barred owl and see some pretty bog plants. I just bought a new waterproof camera and I use the hiking opportunity to test out some of its features and get some experience with it.
Blackwater: Barred Owl

Finally, it was time to head home. Again, a slow slog in the area near the Bay Bridge, but smooth sailing otherwise. I arrive home and Valerie is good enough to help me find and pull off all the little critters which had attached themselves to me over the course of the weekend (ticks love me). Then it was out to dinner with Valerie and the boys. I hadn’t exactly been in the deep wilderness, but even after a couple of days of semi-roughing it being served a burger (veggie, of course) in Red Robin seemed like a wonderful luxury. Ahh, the joys of family and french fries.

More pictures are here.

Ralph's trip report is here.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Saturday Afternoon

I decided to take care of gardening chores first today and so didn't make it to the river until 2 PM. A beautiful spring day but it reminded me of why I like the mornings - in the afternoon the marina is a madhouse of boat traffic. Got knocked about pretty well by a powerboat which throttled up to max as soon as he got past the No Wake buoy.

I ran into Kurt and Chuck H as I pulled into the marina. Chuck has a masterful homemade rig which enables him to carry a kayak on a Miata. A beautiful, functional piece of woodworking - you might say it even enhances the appearance of the car.

As I made my way upriver I spotted someone loading a sea kayak onto a car in the Roosevelt Island parking lot. It was David L, who was later than usual as well because of torah study and a make-up yoga class.

Oh, and it was Turtle Day on the Potomac. The combination of chilly water and warm sun prompted every turtle in the river to climb up onto a log to get some sun. The turtles were everywhere.

I sighted an interesting couple in rented kayaks up near Jack's: he, with a black Mohawk & ponytail and a full sleeve of tattoos. She, with a spiky, bright pink 'doo. I guess even punks like to paddle sometimes.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

First Sunday Outing

Today I did my first Sunday morning jaunt of the year. On nice Sunday mornings, while Valerie does school-related work and the boys sleep in, I slip out and do a quick paddle from Columbia Island Marina, usually to Fletcher's Cove and back (about 10 miles round trip). These are usually solitary outings, as not too many people are interested in being up and at the marina at seven o'clock Sunday morning. I was surprised, then to see Pastor Pete pull in while I was unloading my boat.

I must digress and say that I have three kayaking friends named "Peter H.", and so I have chosen to refer to them by occupation. Only two figure into this story, so you won't find any mention of Peter H the Proposal Cost Volume Book Boss, which is just as well, since that's a lot to type.

Pastor Pete and I know each other mostly through the online paddling world, but we have kayaked together here and there in the past. It's surprising to see him on a Sunday; as you might expect, it's usually a work day for him. Today, though, he's left his flock in others' hands and is at the marina to participate in an ACA training certification class with Mike Aronoff. I know Mike, too. He's one of the best instructors in the area - so good that his company is successful even though Mike has chosen to give it the unpronounceable name of CKAPCO, which stands for Canoe, Kayak and Paddle Company. Mike spent his career in the military and clearly picked up it's love for acronyms.

After Pete and I chat for a bit I hit the water. Last night was some kind of super moon (the moon was closer to the earth than usual) and this morning's high tide is HIGH. Not flooding high, but high enough that the Boundary Channel, which can be a muddy, impassable ditch at low tide, felt like a river. I have written before of my love for this little bit of urban wilderness. This morning I see a pair of ospreys hunting for fish, a night heron, and some wood ducks. Wood ducks are like regular mallards made cuter. They're smaller and simply beautiful in color. I also had repeated interactions with the world's stupidest duck. He took off when I got near him, flew a hundred feet, then landed in my path. When I caught up with him he did the same thing again. And again, before he finally flew off in another direction. The blue herons I flushed later in the trip were smarter; they flew around for a while and let me go by before landing again.

It started drizzling a little, which did nothing top diminish the awe of the spot where the Boundary Channel hits the Potomac. As you come out of the channel the river opens up before you. To your right is the postcard view of the Lincoln Memorial with the Washington Monument behind it. To your left, through the bridges, you can see the Kennedy Center and Georgetown. Striking. I headed upriver between Roosevelt Island and the Virginia shore.

The river was teeming with two things: rowers and more wood ducks. It's a little unusual to see wood ducks and I have never seen so many on one outing before. I literally gasped when I saw one with ducklings trailing behind - so cute! The crew boats are less adorable. As I have complained in this space before, they assume right-of-way on the whole river; I hugged the shoreline to stay out of their way (also, the better to see the wood ducks!). At one point five eight-man racing shells came by me at full tilt, followed by their chase boats. It is a pretty impressive sight up close.

I had trouble finding a spot for my coffee break; the water was so high that the little beachy areas along the shore were all submerged. I finally found a place to pull out right above the Fletcher's warning buoy. As I stepped out of the boat I was momentarily startled when I spotted a freaked-out looking red-eyed fish staring up at me from the water - until I realized it was an abandoned fishing lure. Stepping around my fake fishy friend, I took out my Thermos and the Washington Post and enjoyed a cup of coffee and an article or two, alone on the river except for the occasional passing rower.

On the paddle back I went around the east side of Roosevelt Island but again took the Boundary Channel. As I passed under the bridge which carries the bike trail over the channel, a cyclist stopped to look at me. By amazing coincidence, it was Peter H the Architect, out for a bike ride. Peter H the Architect has the same CLC wooden kayak I have. It's an unusual boat and so he immediately knew it was me when he saw me. We chatted a bit, then I headed back to the marina where I found the CKAPCO group just hitting the water (Pastor Pete had come early to do some practice on his own before class). It turns out that Pete and Mike were not the only familiar faces in that group: my friends Nelson, Peter F, and The Other Jesse were there as well.

I didn't even bother to change before heading home. After a quick stop at the marina rest room (which, at 10 AM, was already active) I hit the road. Back home, both T&V were perplexed to find me there, asking if I had decided not to go kayaking today after all. They were surprised to find that at 10:45 AM I was already back after having kayaked for nearly three hours.

Anyway, a nice, cool morning, surprising interactions with friends, ospreys, wood ducks, cormorants, and coffee. What's not to like?