Sunday, March 23, 2014

March of the Kayakers

I was getting a little worried about March. I try to paddle at least once per month year-round. This year, despite the unusually cold and snowy winter, I managed to get out there in November, December, January and February. March was somehow slipping away, though. Unusual - March is usually when kayaking picks up steam. Well, I corrected that today.

I met Tall Tom and Suzanne at the Brown's Bridge put-in on Rocky Gorge Reservoir, a spot chosen based on being equally inconvenient for all of us. By pure chance Tom merged onto I66 in Virginia just as I was passing by and so without having meant to the two of us wound up caravaning there.

After a taste of 70-ish degree weather on Saturday, the slightly raw low 40's temperatures of Sunday felt mighty cold. That's the other reason (besides location) I chose Rocky Gorge - it's pretty well protected from the wind. Unfortunately, the reservoirs make for pretty uneventful paddling so I have not much to report: we did see a bald eagle and an osprey - the bird life is returning. Plus, this was the test trip for the new Greenland paddle I recently completed. It felt pretty nice. I'll have to keep testing it and eventually roll with it, but so far so good.

The GPS took me home a different route than I had used on the way up there. Perhaps the most surprising part of the whole day was discovering the diversity of churches along upper New Hampshire Avenue: Ukranian Catholic, Ukranian Orthodox, Seventh Day Adventist, Catholic, a variety of iglesias, Lutheran, Muslim, Christ Fellowship, some Asian religion (no sign), Baptist, Cambodian Buddhist, and more. Who knew there was this kind of religious diversity in Colesville, Maryland?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Winter Trip to the Adirondacks

I almost backed out of this trip. Sure, a trip to the Adirondacks to see Jen and go skiing seemed like a good idea a few months ago. It had been a long winter since then, though, with the bitter cold of the polar vortex and snowstorm after snowstorm after snowstorm.By the time the week of the trip came around a trip to a winter wonderland no longer seemed like such a great idea. I did my best to passive aggressively wiggle my way out of it but Suzanne wasn't buying it - and so we went ahead with our plans.

We met at Suzanne's house where we consolidated stuff into one car. Let me tell you some things about Suzanne's Subaru: to unlock it you insert a key into the door lock. After you unlock the door you have to open the door and click a button to unlock the other doors. To listen to music you have to insert something called a "CD" into the stereo. Now, this was all typical at one time but today these features seem as archaic as a crank starter - how quickly things change. Model T feature set notwithstanding, the semi-beater Subie got us to the Adirondacks in a mere ten hours (we weren't exactly rushing) and, except for the Maryland license plates and the kayak racks, blended well with the indigenous vehicles of the Adirondack peoples. Upon our arrival we took a brief walk around the grounds of the Adirondack Museum then settled into Jen's temporary digs, a cute little A-frame cottage. Our focus turned to dinner. With our help in seeding the tomatoes, Jen prepared a delicious penne dish. Apparently I had a reputation on our Adirondacks paddling trip for not doing my share of the dishes (not entirely undeserved - I was afraid to do the dishes since I didn't know Tall Tom's patented multi-step approach to dish sanitization and was afraid of poisoning us all with lake water bacteria) and so since Suzanne brought it up I made sure to do my share of the dishes on this trip.

View from the museum cafeteria
I was also, I must say, sharing quarters with two cats. No more need be said about this, except that I insisted on the one bedroom room with a door because I had no interest in begin pawed in the face at 5 AM.
Friday Jen had to work. Suzanne and I headed over to Garnet Hill ski area, taking a small detour to drive by the house Jen had just purchased. Our first order of business at Garnet Hill was to check the ski shop for end of season deals. Suzanne and I each wound up buying a pair of skis for forty bucks. In my case the beat up rental skis were an enormous step up over my Jimmy Carter-era skis while for Suzanne a similar pair of beat up rentals will serve as a backup for her shiny new (purchased at Garnet Hill earlier this season) high-end skis. Unfortunately they didn't have any discount boots in my size and I didn't feel like paying $200 for a new pair and so I couldn't put my "new" skis to use (my old boots use a different, incompatible binding). They did have one boot that was almost my size but couldn't find its mate. "What?" I said, "did you rent to Peter Stuyvesant?" And from the lack of belly laughs triggered by that remark I learned that jokes referencing colonial era Dutch governors of New York (New Amsterdam, to be precise) don't play well, even in New York. Tough crowd.

Taking a break (in Adirondack Chairs, of course)
Suzanne and I skied all Garnet Hill's green (easy) trails, a couple of blue (intermediates) and via a wrong turn almost wound up on an expert trail called "Skullbuster" - yikes! 

Narrowly avoiding Skullbuster

The high point of the day was the chance to ski out onto Thirteenth Lake. The experience of skiing out on the wide, white open expanse of a frozen lake is pretty cool. We skied across the lake to a frozen waterfall, then skied around the perimeter to the end of the lake where we stopped for lunch at a picnic table. Lunch was, however, brief.  Skiing in the cold isn't bad (temps were in the teens or twenties) but stopping is a bitch! We began to get cold after just a little while of inactivity and so we quickly abandoned our pretty lakeside perch and skied onward.The whole place was pretty empty - on the lake we saw one other skier out with a pair of dogs, and a snow-shoer. And yes, "Thirteenth Lake" is the real name of the lake. There are so many lakes in the Adirondacks that they just have numbers - like elementary schools in New York City.

Frozen waterfall, Thirteenth Lake
 When late afternoon came around we changed into some more presentable clothes and headed up to the Garnet Hill lodge, where Jen met up with us for dinner. I had a rather decent trout garnished with sweet potatoes (shades of the old Rudi's Big Indian restaurant). The owner of the place would come out and play the piano intermittently during dinner. The waitress (whose ex-brother-in-law lived up the street from where Jen had just bought a house) assured us that anyone is welcome to play and so at the end of our meal I played a few numbers. The owner came out and complimented me on my playing. This was apparently noteworthy - he's said to be quite shy, leaving the front-of-house schmoozing to the wife.

Saturday the three of us headed to Santanoni Great Camp. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries many of America's wealthy industrialists built grand vacation retreats in the Adirondacks. Santanoni, built by Albany banker Robert Pruyn, is one of the older and finer surviving examples of a great camp complex. Originally the camp comprised 12,900 acres - that's more than half the size of Manhattan.Today what's left of the place is state-owned and the forest roads are open for hiking and skiing. Our first puzzle was why a great camp created by an old money WASPy banker would have such an Italian-sounding name. Wikipedia to the rescue! Santanoni is an Abenaki indian corruption of "Saint Anthony", the nearby peak having been named for the saint by French fur traders and missionaries.

All of us taking pictures of each other
That mystery having been solved, we hit the trails. We skied a five mile forest road to the main house complex. The good thing about a road is that it's wide and has only gradual elevation changes, which makes for good, fairly easy skiing.We didn't see anyone on the way in but did run into other folks both at the main house, which has a lovely setting overlooking a lake, and on the way back. Most of the main house is locked up but interestingly one door was open and so we got to go inside one of the bedrooms and see a little bit of the place. Since it was windy by the lake we ate our lunch sitting on the floor inside the house. This may or may not have been a good idea in terms of staying warm - just as the day before, sitting still in the cold got to us pretty quickly. 

Rustic great camp architecture
The ski in had been mostly a gradual uphill and so the ski out was quicker and easier. Since I still didn't have boots for my new skis I used my old ones, which have no glide. This wasn't a big issue on the uphill climb in, but on the way out Jen and Suzanne would take off ahead of me whenever we got to a downhill section. Still, we never got too far apart. We made a stop at the camp's farm area (the great camp had had a 200 acre demonstration farm) where again we found an open building we could poke around in. The forecast had been for some snow and it was just starting as we got back to the car. All told we skied 10 miles, which was pretty far for us and so we were happy to get our wobbly legs into the car. After a brief stop at the gatehouse we headed over to the Adirondack Hotel for a drink and snacks. The hotel bar was overrun with snowmobilers. Yes, while there are plenty of us who like the quiet of skiing and snow shoeing, the real dominant winter sport in the ADK's is snowmobiling. You see them everywhere. Every road had snowmobile crossing warning signs and in some places there are snowmobile lanes running alongside the road. Many of the bigger lakes are filled with swarms of snowmobiles. If the Adirondack Hotel bar was any indicator, the snowmobiles may run on gas but the snowmobilers run on alcohol.
A picture, even a sideways one, with the bear is a requirement

That evening we headed back to Jen's for our final dinner. Jen prepared a lovely soy ginger salmon with greens. But first we got a special treat: a chance to tour the Adirondack Museum's Boats & Boating exhibit. As you might expect, we had a blast looking at the museum's collection of kayaks, canoes, guide boats, and classic motorboats, plus lots of vintage pictures (including the first meeting of the American Canoe Association, which looked a lot like SK102, but with better mustaches). We also got to see Adirondack Ab, the frightening looking mannequin of an Adirondack guide.

Awesome lizard decoration on a classic motorboat

On our last day we decided to switch things up and use our snow shoes. We did a snow shoe hike alongside Cascade Lake near Old Forge. This was the coldest day, plus we were all a little worn out, and so we stayed out only about three hours. The snow on the trail was actually pretty well packed and so snow shoes were optional - on the way out Suzanne took hers off and just hiked.

One thing about all these New York State parks is that the trails are all remarkably well equipped with outhouses. It's a little strange to be hiking along in what seems to be unspoiled wilderness and suddenly come across a bathroom. While they're appreciated, it somehow alters the effect of being in the wilderness.

After we left Cascade Lake we went for lunch at Tony Harper's Pizza and Clam Shack in Old Forge, NY. I'm not sure where they get clams in the Adirondacks (lake clams?) but the pizza wasn't bad. The place was, needless to say, filled with snowmobilers and the parking lot was full of snowmobiles.

We then walked around town. Suzanne wanted to buy maple syrup but like an unhappy version of Goldilocks we only found souvenir sized bottles in the general store (too small) and half gallons in the market (too large) - we never found the "just right" size.

Our last stop was Mountain Man, a very good outdoors store. The store was having a sale on their winter gear and so I looked at cross country ski boots. To make a long story short, they didn't have anything I liked among their sale items, but I did like one of their rental boots, which I had tried on for size, and so they sold the pair to me for forty bucks - another $40 used equipment score!

After perusing the kayak/canoe section of Mountain Man we parted way (big hugs, of course). Suzanne and I  headed south for home. A warming trend was in progress in the mid-Atlantic and so on our way home we traveled not just through distance but through seasons - departing winter and arriving in Spring.

A final shot of ADK winter beauty

Sunday, March 2, 2014

"kayaker" vs "Kayaker"

There's been a lot of discussion in my kayaking club lately about finding the right approach to the  entry-level kayaker. Are we a club for kayaking enthusiasts, and the heck with the newbies? Are we a club that's open to people who aspire to develop their skills and become kayaking enthusiasts? What about people who enjoy knocking around in kayaks but are happy not to progress any further? Someone used the expression "Big K Kayakers vs. Little k kayakers" to differentiate between avid kayak enthusiasts and people with kayaks.

I scratched my head over the "little k kayakers" a bit (why wouldn't they want to grow into Kayakers?) until I thought about my relationship to cycling. I'm a guy with a bike (two actually) but not a Big C Cyclist. While I was going on multi-day hostel-to-hostel cycling trips and knew how to rebuild a bottom bracket before most of the Spandex-clad jerks I see on the bike trail were born, I don't have the cute outfits or know the lingo. I'm just a guy who enjoys riding a bike.

I hope that "kayakers" don't find "Kayakers" in our club to be off-putting. We try to be welcoming. I have to admit, though, that I have not found the same to be true in the cycling world. I find a certain degree of arrogance among "Cyclists". It's not just me, either. Witness this Pearls Before Swine strip from the other day, which made me laugh and is the real reason for this posting.