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!"