Monday, July 23, 2012

Upper Potomac Paddle

The 2012 Hippo Group
The day started early with the umpteenth check of Tom's car. Yeah, Volvos are super safe cars, but we're doing what we can to counter that aura of safety by overloading the roof rack with kayaks: one right-side up on the passenger side, one on its side in a stacker in the middle, and two more stacked on top of each other on the driver's side. We were on our way to Brunswick, Maryland to do a two day sojourn down the upper Potomac, covering the same ground as the previous year's "Hippo Paddle". The trip had acquired this name because the weather had been incredibly hot and as a result the participants had spent a lot of time just lounging in the water, like hippos.

This year's weather was totally different. It was an unseasonably cool day (seventeen degrees below normal, according to the robotic text-to-speech voice of the National Weather Service, delivered via our marine VHF radios). We were doing a one way trip down the river, which necessitated some car shuttle logistics to make get all the people and gear to the put-in and most of the cars pre-positioned down at the takeout. Jen and I had the job of guarding the boats at the Brunswick launch while the rest of the group shuttled cars around. In addition to being cool, the morning was drizzly and so the two of us spent most of the time hanging out under the highway bridge which passed high over the launch point. Suzanne, who had arrived first, had been wise enough to drop her kayak and gear under the shelter of the bridge and the rest of us had followed suit. We packed our kayaks in a leisurely fashion, then packed Tom's for him. I walked up into town and got coffee and a cupcake (50 cents and homemade, not the trendy Cake Love variety) at Mommer's luncheonette. But mostly we just hung out.

At the put-in

During our time at the put-in we had company in the form of a fat, really ugly but very friendly pug dog. The dog had a collar on - it wasn't a stray - but its owner was nowhere in sight. Frankly, I suspect that the owner wanted some peace and quiet to sleep in on a Saturday morning and so had kicked this grunting, slobbering little blob out the door for a while. I can't blame him. It was about 10:30 when the six of us (we left the pug behind) finally got on the water. The weather was deteriorating somewhat in that the rain was getting heavier, but we were all dressed for the water and so it really didn't matter. The conditions gave the river a pretty, misty, ethereal feel. My new pair of cheap sunglasses spent the day hanging unused around my neck.

The first section of the river had significant flow and some rocks - call it Class 0.5 whitewater. Yvonne got hung up on rocks a couple of times, which wasn't really her fault. She was paddling my Carolina 14.5, a very high volume boat for such a petite person. I don't think she had very good visibility of what was right in front of the boat. Tom, who had no such excuse, got hung up once as well, and most of the rest of us had close calls, scraping over or around rocky areas. There was a reason this was a plastic boat only trip! The wildlife on this section was pretty nice as well. We saw loons, a merganser, blue and green herons, cormorants, eagles, Canada geese, mallards, flycatchers, snowy egrets, and swallows. Along the shore we saw deer.

Misty Morning

Geese and flowers along the riverbank

With only 10 miles to cover and significant assistance from the current, we decided to paddle without a break down to our camping spot on an island in the river. Not being a formal camping area, it took a little scouting to find an appropriate spot to beach the boats and set up camp. It was still raining and so the first order of business was to set up the large tarp we had thankfully thought to bring with us. The tarp gave us sufficient shelter to (a) relax for lunch and (b) begin staging gear and setting up our tents. Over the next couple of hours lunch was eaten, boats were unloaded, and tents were erected. Soon thereafter, afternoon beverages and appetizers (chili dusted dried mangos, dolma with tzatziki) were served. At about 4 PM the rain let up, giving us a chance to change our clothes and get warm and dry. The weather held through the rest of the evening, so after dinner (curry, served with or without chicken, with rice, kale, brussel sprouts, etc., etc., and my contribution: strawberry shortcake) we had a small campfire down by the river. Tom had wisely brought a fake fire log to get the fire going; it would have been hard to make a fire with only the wet wood we had available to us. At about 10 we retired to our tents. I tend to fuss in my tent for a while before going to bed. In this case, I heard snoring from other tents long before I was even ready to get into my sleeping bag. My fussing time was extended by the discovery that I was able to get data connectivity on my phone. I wound up texting with Valerie for a while and making a move in our Words with Friends game before finally turning in.

Keeping the rain out while putting up the tarp

Sunday started as camping mornings usually do, with the group slowly rousing itself and checking conditions. Tents had made it through the night - even mine with its snapped pole (rescued via Jen's handy tent pole repair splint). Body parts all functioning and only slightly achy (I have a comfy new sleep mat). Gear all in place, though still as wet as when we had hung it up the night before. There was a slight panic (particularly on the part of Suzanne and me - evidently the biggest caffeine junkies of the bunch) over a possible shortage of morning coffee, but in fact we were all able to get our caffeine fixes. Breakfast was delicious: muffins from Firehook bakery, breakfast burritos with eggs and cheese, and for those who have a taste for it, salty country ham. In no hurry at all, we took time playing in the river's current, snapped pictures and slowly loaded our boats.

The White's Ferry ferry

Finally, we got under way for the short haul to White's Ferry. There were no mini-rapids on this section of the river, just pretty scenery and a bunch of other boaters. We took a break and pulled ashore at the Dickerson power plant to admire the artificial whitewater kayaking course they had created from the plant's discharge water. The U.S. Olympic Kayaking team has trained there! The last bit of river was uneventful. We spotted White's Ferry from far away. It's easy to spot as there is an actual operating cable ferry, The General Jubal Early, which shuttles cars back and forth across the river. I'm not sure I'd name my boat after a man who was both a Confederate General and a lawyer, but that's just a personal taste. After landing we loaded up the cars, changed clothes and all had lunch at the greasy spoon White's Ferry cafe. As we parted I was ambushed with a group hug, since I have reputation for being hug-averse (not quite accurate: I have nothing against hugs; I'm just not very good at them). Then we parted ways and headed for home. Jen, Tom and I kept our eyes and our prayers focused on the stack of boats on the roof as we traversed the Beltway. Fortunately everything stayed in place and we all made it home safe and sound. Three hours later I was in The Container Store with a frazzled Ted and an excited Valerie, buying dorm supplies at a hectic College Night event. The peace of the river seemed far away as the particulars of everyday life rolled back in - had it all been a dream?

My pix are at:

Suzanne's pix are at: