Tuesday, December 31, 2013

PT Paddle from Annapolis

Saturday I went on another physical therapy paddle with Tom. Tom reports that he is doing “some” of his formal PT exercises and so we are augmenting his recovery by engaging in regular functional exercise – otherwise known as kayaking. We launched out of Truxton Park in Annapolis, chosen because I had a secondary agenda of visiting Annapolis Canoe and Kayak (ACK) to check out a remarkable deal they had on a nearly new Current Designs Cypress kayak. The forecast for the day was low 50's but as we launched there was still a very thin sheet of ice in the still water by the beach and so we got the pleasure of the feel and sound of cutting through the ice. 

We paddled out of Spa Creek and out around the Naval Academy into the Severn River. With the warmer weather plus chemical hand-warmers I didn’t have the same problems with cold hands I had had on the previous outing. Our previous PT paddles had been 4 and 6 miles, respectively, and I had upped the mileage by two miles once again with a roughly 8 mile route. I was afraid that Tom would want to push further but I was happy to discover that he was self-limiting on duration. Apparently he's taking his wife's advice (“you only want to do rehab once”) to heart.

Exploring creeks is always fun and in winter time has the added benefit of providing sheltered waters in which to paddle. After a false start into a dead-end creek we pushed back into Weems Creek as far as the Ridgely Avenue swing bridge, ogling the houses and big boats as always, then turned around to head back. The wind had changed direction (doesn't it always?) and so on we were paddling into the wind with some slightly choppy conditions in the Severn until we rounded the corner back into Spa Creek.

As planned we made a stop at ACK, pulling out at their dock. Do you know what I love about Annapolis? It's a place where just about everyone is involved in some sort of boating activity. So, when you walk into a store decked out in a dry suit and life jacket (PFD) no one bats an eye. In fact, the only one in the kayak shop who mentioned our attire was a customer who was in there shopping for a dry suit himself (he asked what we thought of our particular suits).  Alas, the kayak I had my eye on had already had been sold. If our friend Dave, who is one of the managers of the shop, had been there we might have hung around to chat but he wasn’t and so we headed back to our kayaks (passing a contingent of maids from a yacht cleaning service (!) - who also didn't bat an eye at our attire) to paddle the last mile or two back to our put-in.

Launching from ACK's dock (Maryland statehouse in the background)
Along the way we bumped into another kayaker out enjoying the day, a fellow named Marshall. Not someone we knew - a nice guy though. He paddled with us all the way to Truxton Park where he got out of his kayak for a break while we unloaded out stuff. Marshall turned out to be 6' 6" tall, slightly edging out the 6' 5" Tall Tom and certainly making me feel like a Munchkin.

Y'know, in these postings I'm always harping on Tom's and my relative heights. As an engineer I like data and so I decided that for this posting I’d get quantitative about it. Look at the height density chart below. At 5' 10" I'm right at the average point. Now, look at Tom & Marshall's height range (77 and 78 inches). They're taller than the point marked as "Very Tall" (I didn't add this annotation). See, so it's not just me being height sensitive - the data backs up the fact that these guys are TALL – in the tail of the distribution occupied by primarily by pro athletes and Bond henchmen (Richard Kiel, who played Jaws, is 7’ 2” tall). As an average height guy I shouldn’t feel short, but I think I tend to notice the half of guys who are taller than I am more than the half who are shorter. But I digress …

Height of North American Men

I chatted in the parking lot with a SUP paddler about the benefits of a dry suit vs. wet suit – cold water is something that needs to be respected and one should always be prepared for immersion. As we packed our gear we saw a group of three people in street clothes launch in recreational kayaks. No cold water gear at all. I’m sure they were fine ... as long as they didn’t capsize.

Anyway, after a quick lunch at Quizno’s we headed home. We had originally planned to paddle on Sunday and when I awoke the next morning to bone-chilling rain I was glad we were able to move our outing to the beautiful weather of Saturday.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve on the Potomac

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Now that Tall Tom has declared himself fit to paddle he’s very eager to get back into the swing of things, despite the fact that it’s the depths of winter. So it came as no surprise when he approached me about paddling Christmas Eve. As it happens I was working at home and expected that things would wind down early, so I agreed to a late-afternoon outing from Columbia Island.

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew, With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

I had been keeping my eye on the temperature and tides but had somehow neglected to look at the wind. When we got to Columbia Island it was blowing pretty hard: 25 MPH, with gusts above 30. A small craft advisory was in effect, but I didn’t know that until later. We took solace from the fact that it was  that another group of experienced and generally sane paddlers had decided to go out on the river (we recognized Mustache Brian’s – and possibly Dennis’ – cars in the parking lot).

We also had the chance to chat with an unusually gregarious Columbia Island Marina security guard. The guards are usually recent immigrants with limited English skills and little interest in conversation (an exception to the second part of this rule was an Ethiopian guard who worked there a few years ago. He used to like to talk to us – and almost fainted when Frank started talking to him in fluent Amharic). Today’s guard was interested in talking about our boats (he loved my wooden kayak), and just about anything else. 

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

We headed up the Boundary Channel, the most protected route. The channel can dry out away from high tide, but thanks to recent rain was navigable all the way up except for one little section which we easily portaged. We were paddling into the wind which was both a workout and a chilling experience. I was dressed warmly and didn’t feel cold except for my hands, which were excruciatingly cold. This has been a problem for me for the last couple of years. It’s really uncomfortable, plus it makes me nervous since when my hands are cold I feel I don’t have a good grip on my paddle. When we stopped for the portage Tom lent me what I refer to as his “opera gloves”, waterproof mitten things that go all the way up the arm past the elbow (the manufacturer calls them “Greenland Style Gauntlets”). I put them on over the two layers of gloves I was wearing already – and they may have helped a little. As I paddled along the discomfort made me contemplate whether this should be my last wintertime paddle ever. Despite the discomfort it was magical to be out there in the cold, complete with intermittent snow flurries as well as a sprinkling of bird life (herons and geese, mostly).

Portaging in the Boundary Channel
When we got out of the channel we decided to continue up the river to the top of Columbia Island, which is where we head on Thursday nights in season. It was a bit of a slog. The wind continued to blow hard and the gusts were knocking us around a bit - but the river wasn't too choppy. I hugged the Roosevelt Island shoreline to get some protection from the wind (plus having land in closed proximity felt good). I took a break at the top of the island to pull my hands out of my gloves and wiggle them around a bit, which actually helped warm them up.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

The waters at the top of the island were turbulent but once we rounded the island and pointed our kayaks downriver we started flying, propelled by the wind and the waves. I think we could have managed 2 – 3 knots all the way back without paddling at all. As a result our trip back to Columbia Island was a quick one. We noted how silent things were – no bike commuters on the trails along the river bank, no other boats out on the river, light traffic. We also enjoyed seeing the newly unscaffolded Washington Monument, with some pretty clouds behind it. At this point my hands started to feel a little better – still stinging, but not with nearly the same intensity as earlier. 

Ice in my cockpit
When we got back it was Tom’s turn to be cold. He went and sat in his car with the heater on for a bit before loading his boat, while I went through the process of loading mine. We really felt the wind chill and we made quick work of packing up and getting ready to go. It goes without saying that Christmas Eve is not a big holiday for me and I guess, based on the fact that he was out paddling, that it isn’t for Tom either. But, I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove his Subaru out of sight, "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Birthday Outing

As a birthday present Valerie surprised me with a night at the lovely Ashby Inn in Paris, Virginia. Lovely and historic, I should say, since legend has it that Confederate Generals Johnston and Jackson napped on the porch of the inn on their way to glorious victory over the Yankee invader at First Manassas. Jackson must have gotten a good rest since it was at this battle that he earned his eternal nickname, “Stonewall”. But this was not the town’s first brush with history. It is said that the town was renamed to Paris by a local bigwig in the revolutionary era in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette. While this name change did not entice Lafayette to settle there (which had been part of the plan), it was still a positive change for the town, which had previously been known as Pumpkinville.

Anyway, as part of the adventure Valerie offered to go hiking with me at nearby Sky Meadows State Park. This was pretty historic in itself, for usually when I suggest any outdoorsy activity Valerie, well, stonewalls. Valerie had offered wine-tasting as an option as well, but neither of us is particularly into wine. We have enjoyed trips to vineyards in Virginia and California in the past, but I was more interested in shoving my hiking boot clad foot in the slightly opened door of an outdoor adventure.

On a crisp but quite pleasant November day we started out by hiking in the main part of Sky Meadows, which involves a steep vertical climb through a cow pasture to the Appalachian Trail. We navigated our way around the cow pies as far as the first overlook then decided that this was not the right trail for us (Ted and I have done extensive hiking in this park in the past - it's lovely, but it is very hilly). When we got back to the car Valerie was ready to quit but I, having the birthday thing going for me, wasn’t quite ready to let her off the hook. Instead we went over to the other side of the park (I had never been there before) and hiked a lovely and largely flat loop trail alongside a brook. The east side of the park was deserted and we had a very pleasant and peaceful walk before repairing to the inn to nap and change for dinner.
At Sky Meadows State Park
I’m not much of a meat eater, but special occasions call for flexitarian flexibility and so for dinner I ordered the venison – and Valerie did too. Having suffered a tick borne illness in the past I am no friend of deer and was much happier to see one on my plate than spreading its havoc in the woods. I guess I got the last laugh, didn’t I, Bambi?! The presentation of the meat was a little surprising – a large tenderloin of venison sparsely surrounded by the most miniscule of vegetables. Valerie had asked to substitute another vegetable for the brussels sprouts, but in fact the two baby carrots she got in place of the two pea-sized brussel sprouts that came on my plate didn’t make much of a difference. The food was quite tasty, but the presentation perhaps a little too nouvelle for me. Still, accompanied by a glass of red wine it was delicious. The company was good, the setting romantic – all and all a great birthday dinner. 

In the morning, after a very nice breakfast at the inn, we headed to the car. In the parking lot we bumped into the restaurant’s head chef, who was very friendly and chatty. Young guy, previously on staff at The Inn at Little Washington. I told him how much I had enjoyed the venison, but chickened out about saying anything about the odd presentation. 

We spent the day in Middleburg, browsing the quaint shops and mingling with the old money horsey set. I bought a wool cap and we bought some small kitchen items and our favorite Ahava moisturizer as well. Interestingly, even though Middleburg is an hour from home we always seem to bump into people we know there. This time it was my former colleague Tim.

Then it was time for the slog home on Rt. 50. It’s amazing how far out into western Loudon County the Washington suburbs extend these days and every time I’m out that way I feel happy that I live in “shabby chic” Arlington rather than McMansion exurbia.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Chickahominy Kayak Trip

It always seems to start with traffic, even at 6:30 AM on a Saturday. I was out the door at 5:30 in order to rendezvous with Ralph's group in time for the day's kayak outing. For several years now Ralph has taken on organizing the November Chickahominy trip, which was started by Bill Dodge and is now in something like its 13th year. Most of the group camped at Chickahominy Riverfront Park Friday night, but being the world's worst cold weather wimp I opted to sleep indoors and drive down Saturday morning. While I inched along I had time to snap a picture of the brake lights in front of me for Jen's benefit. Jen and I had a long history of getting stuck in traffic together on the way to kayaking. I emailed her the photo with a note saying that I guess the bad karma causing our past traffic delays had been mine. Fortunately the traffic backup was fairly brief and I made it down to Jamestown in plenty of time to meet up with the group - in fact, I was the first one at the launch (I knew I was getting close to my destination when I noticed that the Mazda next to me at a traffic light was being driven by a woman dressed in colonial era clothes).

The group rolled in shortly after I did, all a little grumpy from lack of sleep. It turns out that despite having gotten a 4 AM start to the day I was probably the best rested of the group since I hadn't had to put up with noise from redneck yahoo campers partying late into the night or the sounds of late arrivers setting up their tents well after midnight.

Bald eagle in a bald cypress on the James River
 Saturday's plan was for our group of eighteen (Ralph, Rich and Sue, Jim Z, Jim A, Suzanne, Sophie, Bear, Steve, Suzanne, Dick, Paula, Charles, Lois, Aht, Bob, Pete and me, to circumnavigate Jamestown Island. Most of the group had done this trip before and so knew the route; for me it was all new. We launched from the Jamestown Yacht Basin (now apparently called the Jamestown Eco Discovery Park) and headed out into the James River. Our first destination was to go visit the replicas of the Godspeed, Susan Constant and Discovery (the three ships sent by the English Virginia Company in 1606 to settle Jamestown) at Jamestown Harbor. The original fleet was captained by Christopher Newport, who today has a university named after him in nearby Newport News. We paddled around the ships like native Paspahegh tribespeople, and I exchanged "pretty boat" compliments with one of the costumed interpreters on board the Susan Constant (my wooden Shearwater kayak always draws comments). After that we headed off past the Jamestown ferry and around the island, stopping for lunch about 2/3 of the way around. During the lunch break I "swam" my suit - floating around in the water to make sure it was properly watertight. 

Checking out the ships at Jamestown
When we were done kayaking I headed to my hotel to check in and get cleaned up. Fatigue from my long day got the better of me and I wound up napping for about half and hour. Then I showered and headed over to the campground to meet the group. I got a little bit of a hassle from the campers about my luxe accommodations, and of course I laid it on by telling them I was late because room service took forever and how relaxing my massage at the spa had been.

Saturday night was the famous Chickahominy Camper pot-luck feast. London broil (formerly Brad's tradition, but this year supplied by Ralph since Brad has moved away), two kinds of chili, baked potatoes both white and sweet cooked in the campfire courtesy of "potato man" Jim Z, and much, much more. I wasn't doing meat so I had Paula's delicious salmon and spaghetti squash dish, Aht's cream of mushroom soup (with mushrooms soaked in madeira wine), and a ton of sides (salad, roasted root veggies, asian salad, ...). There were plenty of desserts too, and beverages.

After hanging around the camp fire for the evening the wimpy hotel folk bid our adieus. Aht and Talbot headed back to their hotel and I to mine. I slept blissfully until 5:30 AM when I awoke with a start - something was wrong. It was a noise. What was that noise? As I gathered my wits I recognized it as the sound of dripping water. I peeked into the bathroom to find water dripping out of the ceiling. The air vent was dripping water and so was the ceiling light. The globe of the light was filled with water. I called the front desk several times but no one answered. Finally I threw on some clothes and went down to the desk. No one was there so I left a note. At about 6 AM a staff member called my room but said there wasn't really anything he could do - it was too early to wake the guests in the room upstairs (!) and besides, the maintenance guy didn't  get in until 7. Since I was already awake I went back downstairs and had a leisurely breakfast, and by the time I went back up to my room the dripping had mostly stopped and I managed to soak the water up with three bath towels plus the bath mat. When I checked out someone with much better customer service skills apologized profusely and they wound up comping me the room.

One thing that's a given about Ralph's trips is that the group always agrees on a schedule and never follows it. If in the evening the group agrees to leave for kayaking at 9 AM, then the one time you know the group isn't going to leave is 9 AM; most likely Ralph will be rolling early. On more than one occasion (before I knew this pattern) I was taken by surprise, puttering around my campsite thinking I had 30 minutes or more to spare only to see a parade of cars with kayaks go by heading for the exit. [It is left as a discussion point for the reader as to whether this is a good trip-leading behavior]. So, I knew it would be in my best interest to get to the campground as soon as possible after breakfast. After finishing my complaints to management about my bathroom waterfall adventure I headed straight to the campground. At the campfire the night before the clearly stated plan was to gather at the park entrance at 9 AM and caravan to the put-in, which was a half hour away. I got to the campground about 8:20. Since at that time everyone was busy finishing breakfast and breaking camp I sat down at one of the campsite picnic tables and exchanged Words with Friends moves with Valerie until 8:40 when I got a text message from Suzanne (who didn't realize I was at the campground) with the address of the put-in (which I had already successfully Googled from my hotel room). I walked over to her just as she was getting into her car. "We're rolling!" she said, and pulled out. I made a quick bathroom stop then dashed to my car. As I drove out I noticed that while some cars were heading out, some of the group hadn't even taken their tents down yet. The planned caravan at the campground entrance was nowhere to be found and I wound up driving by myself to Eagle's Landing.

Paddling through duckweed on the Chickahominy (Suzanne's photo)
After this chaotic start (which no one else seemed to find chaotic), things got better. Because the forecast was for significant winds we had chosen a protected paddle on the upper Chickahominy River. This turned out to be a pleasant, winding excursion with various options to paddle around islands and cut through little inlets. We paddled about as far up the Chick as you can go. In fact, the last bit involved navigating around and over quite a few dead fall trees in the current of the river - a good test of boat-handling skills. The barely submerged trees were the most challenging: the technique is paddle as hard as you can and use your momentum to get you most of the way over the trunk then just as your boat starts to run aground on the tree amidships you grab the trunk and push yourself the rest of the way over, or wiggle your way over. Perhaps not the best treatment for a glossy wooden boat, but I don't mind a scratch here and there (the other guy on the trip with a wooden boat hung back and did not attempt the dead fall navigation).

We found a spot for a lunch break, which we also used as a turn-around point. On the trip up we had all stayed together but on the return trip the group got pretty spread out. There was a lot of VHF radio traffic as we all figured out who was where and made sure the whole group was accounted for. We only kayaked 10 miles or so, but the trip into the wind and against the current had been hard work and I definitely felt I had had a good day of kayaking.

Lunch break, Sunday
I had planned to eat dinner with Jim A., Steven, and Suzanne and then drive home; however, Eagle's Landing is almost all the way back to Richmond and so rather than drive 30 minutes east to eat dinner then drive the same 30 minutes back west, I bid my farewells and hit the road (the rest of the group was staying into Monday). The trip home was uneventful and I soon found myself back at home, happy to have had a November paddle. I haven't arranged my traditional birthday paddle this year and so it was good to have something I could call a quasi-birthday paddle, even if no one but me knew that's what it was.