Sunday, June 24, 2012

Pohick Bay

Up the creek

I've paddled Mason Neck a hundred million times, but I couldn't remember ever having launched from Pohick Bay Park on the other side of the same peninsula. I just had this impression that Pohick was busier and more filled with power boat traffic. Well, today I decided to check it out.

As I pulled into the park I spotted the signs. "Seadoo test rides today!" they said. Uh oh. A bunch of newbies flying around on jet skis?! That's a kayaker's nightmare. Fortunately it was early and the test ride wasn't underway. The ranger did make me move my car to leave room for their setup - they were using the car-top launch area for the demos, not the boat ramp! - which ticked me off a little bit. Show me how you car top a jet ski and I'll be happy to move out of your way, buddy.

"OK, time to turn down the New Yorker territorialism a little bit," I say to myself.

The Seadoo truck pulls in - blasting hip hop - as I load my boat, but soon I'm off and leave all that behind. I head up Pohick Creek, which turns out to be stunning. Water clear enough to see the fish swimming in it. Twisty with nice scenery. When I first started kayaking I'd love little creeks like this. Now I don't paddle them nearly often enough. I pushed back a mile and three quarters and was still running into bass boats - how they got through the shallow spots where I was scraping my paddle on the bottom I don't know. Finally I came to a spot with only a narrow opening some downed trees. Above that obstacle I had the creek to myself. Well, besides the osprey, kingfishers, herons, turtles and songbirds, that is. I pushed back about another half mile - portaged one area, and stopped when I came to another portage. There was considerable current by this point so it was a quick trip back down. I then looped around part of the bay before heading back. Turns out the jet ski traffic wasn't all that bad.

Back at the park I did a couple of rolls, talked to someone about my boat (the wood boat always attracts attention) and then sat at a picnic table for a while to dry off before heading home. A very nice morning indeed.

How to risk losing your new camera: Balance it on the end of your paddle to take a picture

Friday, June 22, 2012

First Impressions of Rowing

Kayaking. Stand-up paddleboarding. War canoe. Outrigger. Rowing. Sailing. If it's a watercraft under human or wind power, I'm interested. I've been eyeing the Learn to Row class at Thompson Boat Center (TBC) for a couple of seasons now, and lo and behold, my pet uromastyx lizard Cooper signed me up for it this year as a Father's Day present. Clever little fellow - how did he know? And how did he get his hands on my Visa card?

Learn to Row is a week-long class, five 90 minute sessions at 6:15 AM. If you thought the river would be peaceful and wonderful at this hour, you'd be right. If you thought the same of a rowing boathouse, you'd be dead wrong. Early morning is peak time for rowing, as that's generally the calmest, flattest time of day on the river. I arrived each day to find the docks already buzzing with activity - college summer rowing programs going out in "eights" and individual rowers in singles and doubles, a veritable rowing rush hour.

The first day of the class was spent in a classroom, learning the basic terminology and techniques. They also gave us a river orientation - where the rocks are, areas to avoid in summer because of thick weeds, the locations of the other boat houses, and so on. That part I could have taught! We also practiced our stroke on ergs and rowing "simulators", basically metal frames with oar locks and sliding seats.

Tuesday through Thursday we practiced on the water, starting out in fours, moving to singles, then rowing progressively longer distances. A couple of people were freaked out by the tippiness of the shells. I didn't really have a problem there, being used to kayaks. In general I caught on pretty quickly. I wouldn't say I was a natural, but neither was I one of the people needing assistance after becoming lodged against the seawall in Georgetown.

Friday was our "final exam" - rigging out the shells then taking about a 1K loop during which we had to show certain skills. I passed and so was given the green light to take a victory lap up to Three Sisters Islands. I actually cut that loop a little short of Three Sisters, since the hard seat was hurting my bony tush and quite frankly I was feeling the results of several days of using unfamiliar muscles. Feeling a little sore as I did, plus being under-caffeinated, I of course headed straight home from the class to relax.

Just kidding! When I left TBC what I actually did was bop across the river to Columbia Island Marina where I proceeded to kayak for a bit (I had to get a side-by-side comparison of the two sports, didn't I???). Up and down the Boundary Channel, then some rolling practice in the Pentagon/Columbia Island Lagoon - about another hour on the water, all told.

So how do the two compare? It is of course inherently unfair to compare my feelings about a sport that his been a big part of my life for thirteen years and which I have pursued across three continents (four, if you count the subcontinent of Central America separately from North America) with a five day newbie experience. Fortunately it's election season and so illogical comparisons are all the rage here inside the Beltway. Here we go:

Rowing feels much more like a gym workout. Go to the workout location. Sign out your equipment. Row. Return. This feeling is furthered by the swarms of young, gung-ho rowers shouting "T-B-C!" as they carry their shells to the water, the coaches barking at the rowing teams, and just generally the high activity level of the boathouse. Kayaking, on the other hand, feels like a most wonderful way to be at one with nature on the river. Put in at a quiet spot, paddle anywhere. Solitary. Up close. Up in the Boundary Channel I paused to watch an osprey. The turtles were sunning themselves, and a spectacular great blue heron, more white-headed than most, rested in the shallows. Kayaking has a wider range of tricks and stunts to play around with too -rolling, bracing, and the like..

Another reason the scull feels like a piece of workout equipment is that I think of kayaks as having more of a practical heritage; after all, they originated as Inuit hunting craft and are still useful for everything from fishing to multiday expeditions. In contrast, rowing shells are impractically fragile and barely have room to carry so much as a water bottle. Not a practical craft. This isn't entirely fair to rowing. After all, a hundred years ago there were plenty of oar-powered work boats: dories, wherries, gigs and the like; however, I feel like rowing shell has diverged far further from its working class roots than has the modern sea kayak. As a result, rowing feels like an elitist sport; kayaking, like a lifestyle tool.

I find that both types of boat can bring on a meditative state - the repetitive motion, the slow evolution of the scenery. And I will say that the lack of gear associated with the scull is freeing. No PFD (sculls have an exception to Coast Guard rules regarding PFDs!), no neoprene boots, no paddle float and bilge pump. Setting out rowing from a boathouse is like taking a taxi - walk up to the dock in your workout clothes, hop aboard, and off you go. Kayaking is more like riding a motorcycle in that you have to get dressed up in the right clothes, right shoes, right gloves, right gear. Again, I'm not being totally fair: not every kayaker goes out with a ton a specialized gear, and competitive rowers wear those silly unitards and oddball items like rear view mirrors. Still ...

All in all, my first blush conclusion is what you'd expect: forwards or backwards, if I'm on the water, I'm happy. For sure I'll be back at TBC in the near future to spread my solo wings. Kayaking will remain my true passion, but after all, variety is the spice of the river.

Biking Through Hyperspace to Lubber Run

Last Friday I wanted to go see Mary Ann Redmond at Lubber Run Ampitheater. Since V & T had already laid claim to our cars, I decided to bike to the show - just a few miles away. The only challenge was that I had hurt my back the night before while loading my kayak and so had to take it very slowly - still, no problem.

The really cool part was the ride home. After a very enjoyable show I headed home via the Bluemont Connector bike trail. It was pitch black except for my little LED headlight. The trees and bushes were full of fireflies. It was like biking through space, surrounded by stars.

I had to take it nice and slow, not just because of my back but because of limited visibility. Every once in a while I'd come upon someone out for a walk, or a bat would fly by. Mostly, though it was just me and the field of stars, all the way to the lighted W&OD trail and home.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sugarloaf Panoramas

I started Father's Day with a solo hike at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland. 5.6 miles and home in time for lunch. Here are a couple of panoramic shots of  the vistas along the blue trail.

Monday, June 4, 2012

CPA Gear Day

Yesterday I participated in the Chesapeake Paddlers Association Gear Day, billed as "A club show-n-tell, in the spirit of Sunday morning at SK102, to check out and learn about the incredible array of gear we accumulate for sea kayaking."

There was a full schedule of talks covering equipment, technique, stories of expeditions, and safety. I volunteered to give a talk about kayak photography. In the end, my talk and about half the others wound up being informal chats around the table rather than formal talks but that was OK.

I had been to Gear Day once before when it was held in Virginia. I have to tell you, Annapolis is the much more successful location. CPA tends to be more Maryland-based and lots of members showed up to just hang out and socialize. Plus, I think people were lured out by the perfect weather we were lucky enough to have, along with the setting at Truxton Park. Truxton park is located up in Spa Creek, and like much of Annapolis the area is filled with boats, boats and more boats. Very cool.

At one point my friends Dave and Cyndi invited me to join them on a quick trip over to "Ego Alley" - the area of the Annapolis waterfront where people go to show off their big, fancy boats. I should mention that last weekend Cyndi and her paddling partner Ben competed in the General Clinton 70 mile kayak endurance race. Not only did they win their category, their time would have won most of the other categories too - and this despite the fact that they missed a turn and as a result paddled an extra four miles. 74 miles in a bit under 9 hours. Thats over 8 MPH, even factoring in breaks. And today Cyndi was paddling the same racing double kayak she used in the Clinton, this time with Dave, who is a pretty strong paddler himself.

As one might expect, Jesse in his plastic Tempest (average speed 4 MPH) was no match for a double racing kayak (called a "K2"). So all the way there and back Dave and Cyndi would sprint ahead, then wait up for me. However, the sprint boat is incredibly tippy. I can bounce around all day in my Tempest, but the two of them had to work to stay vertical when they were sitting still in the K2, and they weren't willing to go very far out of the protected waters of the creek. Despite this total mismatch between boats, we had a good time checking out downtown Annapolis and I got quite a workout trying my best to keep up with them. On the way back I bumped into my friend Tom, who was giving instruction on wet exits and assisted rescues. I wound up hanging out and assisting him for a while.
Cyndi & Dave, Ego Alley

The only bad part of the day was my drive home. My route home from Annapolis takes me past Nationals Stadium. This has never been a problem before, but I happened to get there just as a game was letting out and the game traffic added an hour to my trip home. Grrr. Lesson learned: check the Nats schedule along with the Tides and Weather when heading out that way ...