Monday, June 23, 2014

Clearwater Festival 2014

After a hiatus last year I attended the Great Hudson River Revival, better known as the Clearwater Festival, this year. I have written about this festival before and so won't describe it at length here, but being a weekend filled with music, jam sessions, camping in a beautiful setting by the river, kayaking, lightweight hippie-dippiness and really good felafel, it hits a lot of high points for me. If only there was an on-site coffee roaster, it would be pretty much perfect :)

This year I managed to convince a couple of my kayaking friends to attend, including Suzanne from Baltimore and Jen from the Adirondacks. The trip up was a logistical and traffic nightmare that I will not describe, except to say that it involved driving from Arlington to Baltimore, Baltimore to Manhattan, then Manhattan to Croton on Hudson, all in heavy traffic. Eventually, after about what seemed like ten days on the road, Suzanne and I (we carpooled) got there. Jen was already there, had her part of camp set up, and had dinner and cold beer ready for us (we had texted our travel travails from the road so she knew what we had been through). We settled in and made camp just in time as the light was fading, despite a slight equipment failure on my part (the bungie in one of my tent poles broke). Alas, it was too late for an evening paddle, but at 9PM the campsite jam session started, led, as usual, by Mingo Lodge of New Jersey band Big Boss Sausage. As usual, I was the best accordionist there (by virtue of being the only accordionist there). We were joined by Tom Chapin's bass player, which was pretty cool. I left the jam a little after midnight and crawled back to my tent, exhausted and a lot more relaxed than I had been when we pulled in.

Clearwater is a lot of fun, but it is not a restful weekend. We got up fairly early Saturday to get some kayaking in. First, at Suzanne's insistence we headed down to the festival and got in just as the gates opened so we could stake out some space with our tarp and chairs at the Rainbow Stage. We bumped into Ken, my friend Sherry's husband, who was also there staking out territory. Then we headed to the car-top launch.
Red hawk by the kayak launch
We paddled about 8-9 miles: over to the "working waterfront" area to eyeball the sloop Clearwater and the schooner Mystic Whaler, then downriver around the Croton Point peninsula, under a railroad bridge, and into a pretty little stream. On the way back we detoured across the river to get a look at the Lettie B. Howard, another schooner that happened to be anchored there. Mystic Whaler is a fairly modern replica, but Lettie. B. Howard is an original 19th century ship. Both are beautiful.
Mystic Whaler
 After paddling we changed and ate lunch at the campsite, then headed down the hill to the festival. Wow, there's almost too much music to describe, and more than one person could see. Dar Williams, Rufus Wainwright, Richard Thompson, The Mavericks, and more. Plus breaks to walk around through the ultra-leftie politics area, the ultra-leftie food area (kombucha, organic seed crackers ...), the hippie-dippie vendor area (tie-dye shirts and djembe drums) and the working waterfront. Plus felafel. Suzanne was clearly clicking with the vibe of the place as she was already talking about what we'll do differently next year, now that she knows how the place runs. Her only concern was that she had brought the wrong wardrobe - camping clothing rather than flowy clothing appropriate for a folkie baby boomer gathering. This surprised me since I don't usually think of Suzanne as being someone whose #1 concern is having the right outfits. In truth I usually see Suzanne in settings like paddling and camping where wardrobe is totally about function, not appearance, so maybe I was just seeing a different side of her.

The Mavericks at the River Stage
After the music finished Saturday at about 8:45 we schlepped back up the hill, showered (a trailer with shower stalls was an exciting new feature this year!) and then headed to the camp site jam session. Saturday night Mingo was sharing hosting duties with another guy. This guy was a talented musician and entertainer, but he was clearly more interested in being the center of attention than in creating an inclusive jam environment. This made for a much less enjoyable jam. For that reason, coupled with my exhaustion, I didn't stay long at the jam before heading off to bed.


Another day starting staking turf at the stage then kayaking - this time a shorter, 4.5 mile paddle upriver. We grabbed lunch to bring with us to the festival and then headed down. I wanted to see Lake Street Dive (a hot up and coming band recommended to me by Mingo) but my friend Charles was coming to the festival for the day with his wife and kids, so I went to meet them at Tom Chapin's set - good folk music from an old pro. Then we got into that festival mode of wandering to different stages, losing and finding each other again and again. Charles and family went to see Laurie Berkner, while I headed to The Klezmatics. Charles and Suzanne found me there, then Suzanne and I (and eventually Jen) met up at the River Stage to see Toshi Reagon while Charles went off to meet up with Ken and Sherry to see David Bromberg. In the late afternoon Suzanne, Jen and I broke camp and said our farewells. Jen headed back up north and Suzanne and I headed south. The festival was being broadcast live on a local radio station and we were able to listen for quite a while - heard Nora Jones and a little bit of Lucinda Williams before losing signal. Suzanne was behind the wheel on the way home and pushed through as fast as possible - no dinner break. I dropped her off and then headed the rest of the way home, digging into my leftover supply of energy bars and snack foods along the way because I was starving. I made it home around midnight and of driven by compulsion unloaded everything except my kayak from the car. 
The Klezmatics at the Dance Tent
 Yes, I went to work the next day (well, teleworked). How productive I was, I can't say. But I felt good, having spent the weekend good friends, music, paddling, and food, along with great weather.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Belle Isle Trip

Because my schedule this summer is pretty busy with other things I haven't signed up for too many Chesapeake Paddlers Association camping trips. Fortunately, I had a free weekend to go on Ralph's Belle Isle trip. Belle Isle State Park is a pleasant little park right on the shores of the Rappahannock River in the Northern Neck of Virginia.


I made plans to carpool with Susan G. I was expecting her to show up at 9:30, but she was at my door at 9 AM. I guess there was a small miscommunication between us on timing, but no worries since I was just about ready anyway. I95 was a mess all the way down due to construction and the 2 1/2 hour trip wound up taking us 3 1/2 hours. We finally made it to the park at 1 PM, ate lunch and set up camp. The campsites at Belle Isle all have electric power. We didn't need it since the nights were cool, but we could have brought an air conditioner as well as an electric coffee maker and big screen TV. Alas, no WiFi - how primitive!

We made it out onto the water at about 3:30, launching into Mulberry Creek from the park, and kayaked for about two hours in some light chop on the Rappahannock. Our timing getting back was fortuitous, as other people from our group were returning at the same time. Ralph and Beth returned just ahead of us and were loading their boats as were Mike and Linda. Steve, Jim and Rosemarie hadn't been out on the water but had meandered down to the launch. As Susan and I loaded our kayaks we also talked with another kayaker (not part of our group) who was landing as we were coming in, a retired electrician named Hunter. Hunter is from the local area and was a font of local history (like that Stingray Point reputedly got its name when Capt. John Smith accidentally stepped on a stingray there). Hunter sounded very southern Virginia. I am certain that he would have pronounced "dog" to rhyme with "vogue".

In the evening we didn't all gather into a single big gathering as often happens on these trips. Instead Susan and I went over and shared appetizers with Steven, Jim and Rosemarie. The three of them had plans to make grilled chicken and pineapple kebobs, but something was wrong with their grill. It was a little bit of a comedy of errors as they experimented with the grill for a while. They had a working Coleman stove and ultimately changed the menu to pan-fried chicken and pineapple. When they got the Coleman fired up and started cooking in earnest Susan and I went back to our site and ate our pre-fab no-cook dinners (I had a cold tortellini salad, and Susan had some sort of lentil and rice mash). Susan retreated to her tent at about 9:30. I just can't turn in that early and so I stayed up for a while reading and writing.

New Yorker paranoia moment #1: When I was in the bath house washing up for the night a teenage kid came in to get washed up. One of the things he did was to wash off his large pocket knife, which he then dried using the air drier behind me. So there I am, standing at the sink and looking in the mirror at this kid behind me with a big knife and so of course I thought, "what would I do if he made a move to stab me." Now I'm sure this was just a wholesome, all-American kid with his pocket knife, but that's the way New York folks think.


One thing I've learned about Ralph's trips is that if you're on time, you're late. If Ralph says he's going to head out at 9 AM, he's probably really going to roll at 8:30, and the rest of the group is going to leave with him. This morning's stated departure time was 9. Susan and I left at 8:40 and were near the back of the group in arriving at the launch. The trip plan was to do go part way around Fleet Island (at the mouth of the Rappahannock River). Ralph likes the outside part of the island but considers the winding path through the marshes and guts around the back of the island to be "hot, shallow and boring" and so his plan was to do an out-and-back trip on the exposed side of the island. A subset of the group liked the idea of circumnavigating the island and so after our lunch break we split into two groups. Sue, Rich, Linda, Mike, Wayne, Susan and I went for the circumnavigation, while Ralph, Dick, Jim, Steven, and Rosemarie retraced their steps around the bay side of the island. The hot, shallow and boring route turned out to be quite enjoyable. Yes, there were a couple of shallow sections, but there were also pretty marshes, cute houses, and a greater variety of scenery than the outside of the island offered.

Semi-selfie with paddlers - off of Fleet Island
New Yorker paranoia moment #2: The place we launched is a public beach and so there were lots of other people milling around there. A guy asked me some questions about why we had such big kayaks, how far we were going to paddle, did I make the wood boat, and so on (amazingly, no questions about the skinny stick paddles). When he asked how long we were going to be out my first thought was of course that he was asking so he'd know how much time he had to break into our cars. Yes, it's groundless paranoia, but that the way New York folks think.
Taking a break: Ralph, Mike, Susan, Steven, Dick

The "hot, shallow and boring" group made it back first, since we were paddling a slightly shorter distance and the other group had a slow paddler with them. As we loaded our boats Sue made a lot of noise about stopping off for ice cream on the way back to camp, which sounded like a great idea since it had gotten pretty hot out. While we loaded we again chatted with the friendly folks at the little beach: three middle-aged ladies from Richmond who were making a rather poor showing of trying out a stand-up paddle board (and who offered to let me try it), and two young women who asked Susan and me why only one of us got a "sexy wood boat".

Susan and I headed out and drove slowly as we passed through the town of Kilmarnock, on the lookout for ice cream. Sure enough there was an old-fashioned soft serve stand there. Old-fashioned but not old - we were waited on by owner, who told us that the place had been open since 2007. I ordered a small vanilla with Heath Bar, which is my usual order at the Frozen Dairy Bar in Falls Church - except here the "small" was enormous. There was simply no way I was going to finish that portion. Susan felt the same way about her overflowing waffle cone. Linda and Mike showed up and the four of us ate together - and lo and behold, the entire gigantic "small" portion and waffle cone were consumed. Interestingly, Sue and Rich, whose idea this was, passed right by the ice cream place and went right back to camp. 

Artsy Photo: Fleet Island
Our paddle had been fairly short and so even with a stop for ice cream we got back to camp early, at around 3 PM. That left plenty of time for showering, relaxing, reading and writing (this entry) before our 7:30 PM dinner reservation at The Lancaster Tavern. Susan and I pulled into the tavern's parking lot at about 7:15. Ralph was already there, of course. In fact, a number of our group were across the street from the tavern examining the town's monument to the brave service of its sons in defending the Southern way of life in the Civil War.

A swan on the "hot, boring and shallow" route
Lancaster is apparently a fairly old town. The tavern has been there in one form or another since the 1790's, as have some of the other surrounding buildings. The place is quaint and definitely a step above the usual kind of places I stop off after paddling, but the food was mediocre and - perhaps our group of twelve overwhelmed the staff - the service was exceptionally poor. Better than the dinner after last year's Potomac Swim where the restaurant never served us food, but very slow and the food came out in dribs and drabs. Still, it was a pleasant evening with good company. Conversation about paddling topics, interesting launch sites, entertaining outdoors mishaps and so on. A number of the people on the trip are birders and so there was some conversation about birds that had been spotted. Was that a yellow-bellied farshtunkeneh tanager, or a yellow-chested oysgeshpielt warbler? Out came the Audubon apps on people's phones, followed by a debate about whether Audubon was really a reliable guide. Jim's contribution to the conversation, a description of the ticks he'd seen crawling around his campsite, creeped some people out - perhaps not the best dinner conversation topic. 

By the time we got back to camp it was 9:45, which is late night for kayakers, so we all just went back to our campsites and settled in for the night. Pretty night, lots of stars. Saw the knife kid again. Is he stalking me?


Our plan for Sunday was to paddle from Carter's Wharf, which was on the way home and offered views of some cliffs. We broke camp and rolled with the group (earlier than the announced departure time, of course). Susan's GPS couldn't find the address of the landing, and so we started by navigating from the written directions and promptly made a wrong turn. Fortunately others from the group were right behind us and so we spotted that we were heading in a different direction. At that point we ditched Apple maps in favor of Google Maps, which was able to find our destination. Interestingly, it said it was 15 miles away and that it would take four hours and forty minutes to get there. This unnerved Susan, but since the destination location looked right on the map and I know that the travel time is a second order derived calculation, I advised that we ignore the weird travel time and follow the app's route - which indeed turned out to be correct. 

Semi-Artsy shot of an abandoned boat
 These "landings" that we launch from are generally historical ferry boat landings, used way back when in the transport of tobacco, passengers, and who knows what else up and down the river. Today they're typically just out-of-the-way public launches. This one, despite the dilapidated condition of the boat ramp, was pretty active as a launch for power boats. We paddled upriver with the tide, pausing to look at the cliffs, which are said to contain lots of fossils (like Calvert Cliffs in Maryland). There were more eagles out than I could count, plus the usual array of ospreys, herons and other water birds - plus quite a few vultures. After looking at the cliffs we continued up the river, poking a little bit into one creek then heading deep into another. The trip back down river was a slog into the wind and against the tide. All told, this wound up being our longest paddle of the weekend.

Susan and I, having been burned on the way down, took Maryland 301 home rather than risking I95 again. This was a pleasant, if slightly slower trip, and needless to say the people who took I95 home reported that it was smooth sailing all the way home.

Beautiful weather, good company, and a pretty and remote part of Virginia to paddle in.

A few more pictures are here:

Monday, June 2, 2014

Two Outings, One Weekend

I generally consider any weekend when I get to go kayaking to be a good weekend. By that criterion this must have been a pretty awesome weekend as I went on two, count em', two, excellent kayak trips.


First, on Sunday Tall Tom and I went out with our wives for a paddle - which is only a slightly less surprising a sentence to have written than, "Saturday I went over to the American Nazi Party headquarters for Shabbos services." The genesis of this spectacularly unexpected event was Tom's plan to twist his wife's arm into a kayaking outing. V has been making noises about wanting to do some kayaking and generally prefers doing things with "other people" (other than whom? Other than me, I suppose). V likes Tom's wife and so, when I presented her with the idea of a joint paddling outing she unexpectedly jumped at the idea.

V on the water

We launched at Pohick Bay. Pohick on Memorial Day weekend has a warm nostalgia for me, as it was the time and place of my first camping trip with the boys (when the campground was full of biker groups in town to participate in the Rolling Thunder rally). We headed up into the creek. V was very unsteady at first, feeling like the slight chop was going to capsize her, but once we got into the creek she was OK. I think she really appreciated the creek's beauty, too. After about 30 minutes of paddling Tom's wife abruptly announced that it was time to head back. I later learned that what she was really doing was giving V the opportunity to head back without having to be"spoiler" who asked us to turn around. Ironically, V, while unsteady at first, told me that she was fine in the the creek and could have gone further. Go figure.

After getting off the water we stopped at a resaturant for a light lunch - where the waitress actually came over to our table to comment on Tom's height. 

Pax Paddlers

The next day Tom, Suzanne, Susan G2, Yvonne and I paddled the Patuxent River. Tom and Suzanne had the ulterior motive of checking out a location for a kayak camper they are planning for later this season; Susan and I were just along for the ride. We launched at the Patuxent Riverkeeper building - the same place from which Tom and I had been turned away a few weeks earlier when the river was declared off-limited due to sewage contamination, paddled down to their intended campsite where we landed and did a little exploring. We then paddled back upriver into Jug Bay. Beautiful day, nice outing- but nowhere near as distinctive as the couples outing!

Landing at Tom & Suzanne's campsite location