Saturday, May 24, 2014

Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival

Rain, rain, rain. So far this year every both camping trips I've done have had the same weather - torrential rain on Friday followed by clear blue skies and dry, cool weather the rest of the weekend. Since we left at noon on Friday we dodged the rain, which had already moved out. Still, day's rainfall had its impact on us. When we got to Granite Hill the place was a muddy mess. A number of the tent site areas were inaccessible due to muddy roads and the whole place was pretty squishy. Add this to the fact that the staff member who "helped" us at the entrance to the campground was not particularly articulate and we wound up having to drive around for a while before finally finding what in fact turned out to be a nice site (only problem: no fire ring). Working together V & I were able to put together the Pizza Hut (as our boys christened our big six person tent years ago) and get the rest of the campsite together (stove, tablecloth, chairs) before heading out to get the lay of the land.

V Camping!!!
I don't know why, but when I'm in outdoorsy places like campground I cannot stop myself from adopting a comical Hee-Haw Southern accent in my interactions with other people. Whenever we'd pass by someone else in the campground my brain would intend to say "hello" to them, but somehow it would come out of my mouth as, "Well, Howdy, y'all! I reckon y'all done be fixin' to see some toe-tappin' bluegrass music!" or something like that. I have a similar problem when I go home to New York, where I can't help myself from ordering things like "cawwfee" and "bagels wit' buddah". Later this summer we'll be going to Alaska. I don't know if there's a Juneau accent but if there is, I'm sure I'll be unable to stop myself from faking one as soon as I get there.

We checked out the main stage, the vendors, and the camp store. Being near Gettysburg, the camp store has lots of Civil War tchotchkes*, including both Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee bobbleheads. I guess that the campground caters to visitors with affinities for both the blue and the grey. The Union paraphernalia (generally less in evidence at Civil War sites in Virginia) reminded me that we were, in fact, in the North - another reason my involuntary corn pone accent is so non-sensical.

We finished our stroll just as the dinner break started at the main stage. We headed back to our campsite where I fired up the Coleman stove and cooked up some rather tasty veggie quesadillas. V went on and on about how good they were, which she did because (a) they really were good, (b) she's trying to encourage me to cook more, (c) she was experiencing that phenomenon where everything seems to taste better when you're eating outdoors, (d) pretty much anything slathered in cheese and avocado is going to be at least somewhat tasty, or (e) some combination of (a) - (d).

After dinner we finally got down to focusing on the music. We brought our chairs over to the main stage and settled in for the evening. The timing of the May festival appealed to me because I figured it wouldn't be super hot; in fact, it was downright freezing! I found myself wishing for a few more layers and even V, who is never, ever, ever, cold, was cold. I retrieved a small fleece throw from the car and we both huddled under it as we watched the Spinney Brothers, Rhonda Vincent, and other bands as the stars came out. Our original plan had been to get ice cream, but it was too darn cold!
V bathed in heavenly light (as always), watching the music
The music continued until midnight but we bailed and headed for our tent shortly before 10 PM. V crawled right into bed. I, always more inclined to putter around the campsite, made some decaf, read for a while, then finally shuttled over to the bath house to get washed up. After taking my contact lenses out I realized I had forgotten to bring my glasses and so I made a fuzzy-eyed walk in the dark back to our site. Fortunately I had left our lantern on as a beacon. Unlike state parks, there seemed to be no noise curfew at this place. While I fell right to sleep I woke up at 2 AM to the sound of people still playing music at their campsites. I woke again at 3 AM at which point there was still conversation going on nearby. By 4 AM (yes, I toss and turn when camping) it was finally quiet. I slept to the unusually late (for me) hour of 7:30.

Saturday & Sunday

Saturday got off to a leisurely start. I started water for coffee in my metal French press. Being half asleep I accidentally put in twice as much coffee as was called for, resulting in a chewy brew. Fortunately I got pretty good caffeine hit off that muddy first cup since most of the rest of it spilled when I tried to reheat the pot later. The pot is too narrow to be stable on the wide-spaced grill of the Coleman stove and as it neared boiling the vibrations of the bubbles caused it to topple over off the stove. Breakfast was bagels and cream cheese. I tried warming my bagel up by holding it over stove. The end result wasn't anywhere near actually toasted, but better than just cold.

After breakfast we moseyed over to the stage area and settled in. We listened to bands from 11 to about 3: Pete Wernick, the Spinney Brothers, Dry Branch Fire Squad, and the Grascals. When it was time for the Seldom Scene to come on (not my favorite band) we decided it was time to take a break and do something else. When I'm camping I'm generally immersed in the experience and so it always seems unnatural to me to leave the campsite and do something non-outdoorsy - it would be like checking Facebook in the middle of meditating. I've got to admit, though, twelve hours straight of bluegrass can be a little much and so I had no objection to heading into Gettysburg, where we spent a few hours outlet shopping. The outlet mall is located in the middle of an area that was filled with field hospitals after the Civil War battle, and the mall has posted a nice map showing the nearby historic field hospital locations. The text accompanying the map encourages people to visit the historic sites while they're in the area. I cringed at the idea that this kind of urging is necessary - that people would come to this area, go outlet shopping and totally ignore the riveting history of the place. When I thought about it I realized that we were at the outlet mall but had no intention of visiting any historic sites.

Since we were in town we decided to skip our planned dinner of franks and beans in favor of a restaurant meal. Thanks to Yelp we had a nice dinner at a local non-touristy Italian place.
The Main Stage
 Before I continue with the chronology, let me digress for a moment. I like to people-watch at events like this. This habit has an unfortunate side effect in that people-watching makes me notice people and their behaviors, and in every crowd there's someone whose behaviors are curious enough to distract me. Let me start with Ostrow. I don't know if that's actually his name, but that's what was written in Sharpie text on the back of his chair. See the guy with the white hair just ahead of me in the picture of the stage? That's Ostrow. From my perspective, Ostrow's main characteristic was that he gets up and down a lot. I've never seen a person get up so many times in the course of one evening to adjust his layering. The jacket goes on. The jacket comes off.  The jacket goes on. The jacket comes off. A sweatshirt goes on. The jacket goes back on over the sweatshirt. The hat goes on. The hat goes off. Ostrow takes a walk. Ostrow comes back from a walk. The jacket comes off ... I should mention that Ostrow, besides not being a spring chicken, doesn't appear to be in the best of shape and so he does each of these things S-L-O-W-L-Y.

Ostrow was right in front of us Friday. On Saturday we set up our chairs in a different spot, but sure enough, Ostrow was in front of us again (not directly in front of us, but in my line of vision). For heavens sake, dude, just sit down and listen to the music. The sweatshirt comes off. The jacket goes on ...

When we got back from dinner in Gettysburg V decided to settle in at the campsite but I wanted to go back to hear Ricky Skaggs.The first thing I noticed as I walked over is that Ricky has a very cool tour bus. Shiny. New. Equipped with LED lights in the under-carriage which cast a soft glow on the ground making the thing seem like a hovering UFO. Unlike Rhonda Vincent, he is not sponsored by a muffin mix company and so his tour bus is not festooned with pictures of boxes of quick bread mixes. The second thing I noticed was the magic in the air. The food and schlock vendors all had their lights on. The stars were out. A band was playing. The ground had dried out (for the most part). The whole place just had this glow of energy about it.

We had left our chairs set up and so I walked over and plopped into my seat. With several layers of clothing on and equipped with a blanket and a cup of hot tea, I was better prepared for the cold than we had been the night before.

Ostrow was there, of course. But more significantly, sitting directly in front of me was distracting person number two. It was another cold evening and everyone was bundled up, some in more improvised ways than others. In front of me was a woman wearing a hooded jacket which was several sizes too big on her and extra-large bright yellow gloves - a large man's work gloves. Definite Minnie Mouse hands. The whole performance was some sort of religious experience for her. She was swaying and waving her arms the way you see people do in gospel churches, which meant that those extra-large yellow hands were in sight and in constant motion. Picture Minnie Mouse dressed as the grim reaper having an epileptic seizure and you'd be in the right ballpark. Somehow she didn't bug me as much as Ostrow did; I just found her distractingly watchable.

Ostrow and Minnie Mouse notwithstanding, I really enjoyed Ricky Skaggs' set. Great musicians, great music, and distinctive sounding (a lot of bluegrass sounds alike). When he was done the next band was the Seldom Scene. You can see them around DC a lot, plus I'm not a big fan, and so I packed up our chairs and trundled off to bed.

Sunday morning there was not much to report. Basically we broke camp and headed home.

*I note with amusement that MS Word spell-check changed "tchochkes" to "tchotchkes". The browser's spell-checker doesn't understand the word at all and wants to replace it with "hopscotches".

Monday, May 12, 2014

I Do Like Mondays

With all due respect to the Boomtown Rats, I'm really starting to like Mondays. This morning instead of running or erg'ing I rolled out of bed and into the car and headed for Columbia Island Marina [note: my version of rolling out of bed and into the car took 40 minutes - I have to work on that]. By 6:15 AM I was at the marina getting ready for a fitness paddle. The marina was surprisingly busy at that early hour - workers maintaining boats, runners and cyclists passing through, and even some gentlemen sitting in their cars, I guess just enjoying the morning.

I launched at about 6:30 and headed up the river. The river was abuzz with crew boats and other rowers and so I had to plot my course carefully to stay out of the way of the backwards-traveling dolts who assume that they have the right of way over everyone and everything. Since I was looking for a workout and the river was glassy smooth I had chosen to use my wing paddle. The wing is meant for paddling fast and hard. I'm only comfortable with it in smooth conditions since I don't know how to brace or maneuver with it very well. I powered my way up the river, making it to the top of Roosevelt Island in just over 30 minutes (the usual Pirates of Georgetown pace is about 45 minutes).

After a quick water break I continued around the top of the island and started back downriver. The wing requires a distinctive, very high-angled (lifting the paddle close to vertical) stroke and lots of torso rotation. I played with my form as I paddled downriver, experimenting with stroke length and paddle path.

The water was high and so I decided to take the Boundary Channel back. Needless to say I couldn't head straight for it since there was an eight person shell barreling down the river to my right. I continued on a parallel course until they and their accompanying motor launch caught up with me then I turned right and crossed behind them. Sometimes the Boundary Channel requires careful navigation but this morning it was quite full of water and so I was able to barrel through at speed. Towards the very end I started to get a cramp in my side, maybe from doing a lot of torso rotation, so I eased up on speed a little. Still, I made the whole trip in a little over an hour for an estimated average speed of 4.25 to 4.5 MPH, which is pretty fast for me.

I'm not always the best steward of my gear but the area around the boat ramp was pretty mucky (pollen?) and so when I got out I used the marina's hose to rinse the muck off my boat and my legs. I tossed the boat on the car and headed for home, arriving with enough time to shower and shave before booting my laptop and sliding into my seat on the back porch just in time to dial into a 9:00 management call. My kinda Monday.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bike, Hike and Slice

What the difference between Jesse and colleges? Colleges have quads. I was reminded of the chronic wimpiness of my quadriceps this morning when I went out to ride the "Arlington Loop", a roughly 19 mile (including the pigtail to get to and from my house) that takes you along the Custis Trail into Rosslyn, then down the Mt. Vernon trail to Crystal City, then out the W&OD back home. I've done very little biking this year and my legs were hurtin' far more than I'd like to admit by the time I hit the third leg of this loop. Still, I soldiered on without any kind of break save for an unauthorized but really needed use of a construction site Porta-potty at Columbia Pike.

As always, the highlight of this ride for me is the Mt. Vernon section, which follows the Potomac. I love the views of the river and I like riding right past the tarmac of National Airport. Sure it can be a little stinky, but I'm always enthralled by the movement on the ground as well as the takeoffsand landings.

When I returned from my bike ride I took a few minutes to stretch, changed clothes then headed out with Ted for a geocaching hike at Riverbend Park. Ted is home for the week between semesters and I was happy to plan an activity with him to have a chance to spend some time together - and of course, this is the kind of activity the two of us like to do. After ogling the mansions of Great Falls on the drive to the park, we set about hiking the trail along the river (which, of course, I like for the river views). We collected all the information for one multi-stage Earth Cache, collected what we think is all the information for the first phase of another complex geocache. Actually, we stopped short of finding all the information since the pollen was getting to Ted and he was starting to have trouble climbing the hills on the trail; however, the remaining numbers were guessable. The goal of finding all this information was to collect all the digits of a latitude and longitude of the next portion of the cache. We think we have everything, but our answer was sort of suspect (unless we changed some things based on common sense) and so we didn't pursue the second cache beyond taking a quick loo, around the location we think was the right answer.

Ted and I finished up with pizza at Flippin'. As we drove through Falls Church he marveled at all the changes (construction has started on the new Harris Teeter, there's the Hilton Garden Inn, etc.) that have happened "since he lived here". :)

It was a beautiful Spring day and I think we made the most of it. It was also Mother's Day, but we had celebrated as a family the night before and so we weren't being bad people by ignoring mom and going out for a hike.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

For the Record, He Wasn't Kidding

Sunday Tall Tom & I loaded up the boats and headed to the Patuxent River. Our plan was to launch from the Patuxent Riverkeeper headquarters, a new launch for us. When we got there it seemed deserted but we knocked and went inside, where we found a very granola-ish man and woman who I guess were volunteer house-sitting the place. When we said we wanted to launch, the guy said, "I'm sorry, you can't do that, the river is closed." I figured the guy was just being a wise ass. Rivers don't close. They're just there.

Well, it turns out he wasn't kidding. The torrential rains that has passed through earlier in the week had washed sewage and other contaminants into the river and all the launch points were closed. We walked out to the dock (partially detached by the rain-swollen river) and looked at the unusually scummy and brown water, then got under way.

Figuring we didn't want to waste the day entirely we drove up to Jug Bay, where they gave us the same story about the river being closed. So instead we hiked a couple of miles on the park's trails before heading back to DC.

2014 SK102

This is my chronicle of this year's SK102, the Chesapeake Paddlers Association's annual training weekend at Lake Anna:

April means the beginning of kayaking season for those who aren't crazy enough to paddle through the winter, which means it's time for SK102, the Chesapeake Paddlers Association's annual training weekend at Lake Anna. I'm here for my fourth time - the first was as a student, and since then as an instructor. Actually, it's my fourth-and-a-halfth time. One year Teddy and I camped at the state park and dropped in on SK102 for the Saturday night socializing and a little commando accordion playing. I agreed to bring an extra kayak to lend to a student and I got a distinct smile on my face as I loaded two kayaks, two instruments, two microphones and stands, camping gear and a six-pack of Lost Rhino Face Plant IPA into the car. I was well-equipped for a fun weekend!

The ride down I95 was dismal as usual. I left at about noon, which got me out ahead of the main wave of traffic, but all the express lanes were blocked by an accident so things were bolloxed up anyway. Not too bad - just some slow-downs here and there (the fact that I took this so calmly means that my commute must be inuring me to traffic). About half-way down I stopped for gas at a WaWa Market where I also grabbed a nice pseudo-cappuccino. Ted & I are big WaWa fans so I texted him a picture.
For Ted: A Stop at the Aquia WaWa
 You definitely enter the South as you get near Fredericksburg; along the road there was a billboard that said, "What will you tell your grandchildren when they ask what you did for your country? Join the Tea Party!"

I arrived at Lake Anna at about 2 PM to find it already abuzz with activity. I unloaded my boats and then helped set up the cluster of pop-up shelters for the Friday instructor pot-luck, then finally my tent. The array of pop-up shelters proved essential about an hour later when the heavens opened up. I mean it rained like crazy, man, crazy. The storm got really bad for a while - drenching rain, thunder and lightning. We probably shouldn't have been sitting under the aluminum frame shelters during a thunderstorm, but we really didn't have nayplace else to go (I guess we could have gotten int our cars, or banged on the door of teh house)? As the rain kept up it became clear that the evening paddle wasn't going to happen, at which point wine and beer began to be consumed (we don't drink before paddling). The instructor meeting was held at 5:30 as planned, and David and Theresa (our hosts) were good enough to let us have the meeting on their porch rather than out in the rain. After the meeting we returned to the pop-up shelters for the pot-luck and just generally schmoozed the evening away. SK102 is not a late night event and so well before 10 PM people had for the most part retired to their tents. I simply can't go to bed that early and so I futzed around with my iPad for a while, writing and reading. At least some others stayed awake past 11  - I heard them talking and laughing loudly. 

Lake Anna

It was cold overnight - cold enough that I got up in the middle of the night and put on my fleece jacket. Cold enough that when I checked my watch and saw it was 6 AM I couldn't believe it because it appeared to still be dark outside - until I realized that I had burrowed so far down in my sleeping bag that I couldn't see the light of day. Still, I could tell it was the kind of morning where I'd be warmer once I got out and started moving and so it was with only a little reluctance that I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag. There are some wonderful volunteers who start a couple of giant coffee urns going at 4 AM and so by the time I got down to the lakeside coffee urns six-ish the coffee was ready to go. I grabbed a cup then went back up to my tent where I mixed trail mix with a plain Greek yogurt for my breakfast, which I ate in pop-up tent city, socializing with other folks as they started their day. About 3/4 of the way through my yogurt I remember the packet of honey I had gotten at WaWa and squeezed some onto the remaining yogurt for an extra treat. I also had a little bit of teh oatmeal Stephanie cooked for the group. I grabbed a second cup of coffee, which I promptly knocked over, then a third to replace it. 

Breakfast in Camp
Between the traffic and the weather quite a few people chose to come down early Saturday instead of Friday evening and so there was a steady stream of arrivals at breakfast-time. SK102 has a new organizer this year (Cat, taking over from Brian) and I will say to her credit that all of these changes and last minute arrival were handled smoothly.
SK102 Instructors
Soon it was time for the morning meeting and class. In the morning I taught Basic Strokes, Wet Exits, and Kayak Design with Jenny Plummer-Welker. Jenny is an excellent teacher, very supportive and very knowledgeable. She's also very laid back and so we really taught as a team. The culmination of the class is getting everyone to capsize and do a wet exit - all of our students fell out of their boat successfully!

Instructor's-Eye View of the Morning Meeting
Lunch break is an hour, which goes by really quickly. I ate the leftovers of the tortellini with vegetables and veggie pepperoni that I had brought for Friday night's pot-luck. Someone had mixed my leftovers with the remains of Rob P's kale & sprouts salad, which made the whole thing yet more yummy. Then it was back to the boats.

My afternoon class was Rescues and Towing with Bela. Usually in rescues the instructor describes what to do and the assistant demonstrates, but Bela wanted to do a lot of the demonstrating himself and so I had a pretty easy time of it. I did wind up in the water to give students a chance to practice being the rescuer, but unlike last year I didn't have to demonstrate each and every technique. A couple of students had some trouble (not unusual in rescues class) but eventually everyone did some successful self and assisted rescues except for one woman who had never been in a kayak before and was a little out of her depth, so to speak.
Goofin' on the Water (Cat's picture)

After classes were over at 4 PM I spent a half hour or so knocking around the waterfront testing boats and rolling, then relaxed a bit before dinner. Saturday night dinner at SK102 is always a big BBQ with hamburgers and hot dogs, this time with some rather tasty veggie burgers as well. I had to eat and run because Paul C. and I were providing music as part of the evening entertainment.We got some volunteers to drag my equipment down from my car (keyboard, amp, accordion, mics & stand, music). Paul and I played for close to an hour before taking a break while they did a rescue flare demonstration. I thought we were done for the evening but just then some boisterous singers (I think they were one and the same as the party group from the previous evening) came up wanting to sing - so we played some more songs with them singing as a group. When we finished and were packing up another guy got up and played some cowboy harmonica tunes. I feel I'm successful when I get others up and involved in the music and that was sure the case on Saturday.

The Entertainment
 After we finished I downed a   beer to help soothe my throat (too much "singing") and headed off to bed. Two classes and an evening of entertaining was a long day.

Panorama View from My Tent
Saturday was warmer overnight and so I slept better. Stephanie once again made oatmeal. This time I took a full portion, which served as my breakfast.

Sunday is always a slower day at SK102. After the hectic and tiring Saturday everyone needs some downtime. I didn't participate in any of the formal activities, preferring to just hang out and socialize. It had been my original intention to get on the road early but Susie wanted to use my boat for a while to practice rescues and so I wound up only slowly breaking camp with lots of interruptions. I browsed the gear swap. I eavesdropped on some of the on-land classes. I chatted with people. I had another cup of coffee, and another.

Finally around noon I headed for home. Traffic was miserable. I kept switching between Rt. 1 and I95, using the traffic display on Google Maps on my phone to attempt to route around traffic but it really was no use. Well, if I'm going to be stuck in traffic I'd rather have the selection of redneck commerce along Rt. 1 to look at (pawn shops, fast food, restaurants with names like "Southern Cookin'") than the empty landscape of the highway. It took close to three hours for what should have been a two hour drive but no matter - I was feeling good from the weekend and that was that.