Sunday, November 30, 2014

I Almost Missed November

I try to get out in my kayak at least once every month of the year. The deep winter months of December, January and February can present a challenge for kayaking - busy schedules, polar vortex temperatures, and ice bound rivers. November isn't usually a problem, but thanks to a succession of minor medical maladies and just a busy schedule I have been off the water since late October. Today, just in the nick of time I managed to get in a November paddle, thanks to Deke and his cleverly named WASUP-DOCK (Washington Area Stand Up Paddleboarders - District of Columbia Kayaker) Meetup group. The unusually warm weather helped too.

I signed up for a trip  around the "toe of the boot" of the Mason Neck/Pohick peninsula but at the last minute almost didn't make it. One of my current maladies is a sore back - I think I injured myself hauling musical gear to Friday night's gig. Bending down and lifting is a problem when I injure my back and when I went to take my kayak off the storage rack I realized I just couldn't lift the darn thing. I almost called it quits at that point (I'd be crazy to go out kayaking with this sort of back injury, right?) but decided to persevere. I got down onto my knees and tugged the kayak off the rack onto the grass then used my kayak cart to roll it the twenty feet to the car. From there I was able to lift the bow, then the stern, into the Hullivator (I was OK as long as I only had to lift half the thing at a time). From there it was smooth sailing and I got folks to help me out at the other end.

A Pair of Eagles

Launching from Mason Neck it was Deke, Tall Tom, Linda, Ed and me (I had never met Linda or Ed before). It being wintertime the water was smooth and thick. A large number of ducks floated ahead of us, taking off en masse as we approached. As planned, we headed west through Belmont Bay, around the point into lower Occoquan Bay, then around the next point into the Potomac. I got a little concerned as we paddled since I felt a growing sciatica pain setting in on the side of my back injury. I had visions of being unable to get myself out of my boat (reminiscent of a time when I herniated a disk carrying music gear but didn't realize it until I tried - and failed - to stand up from the piano bench at the end of practice).

I'm dwelling on injuries here, but there was plenty of good stuff too. For one thing, a lot of eagle sightings. We think it was the same 2-4 eagles we kept seeing again and again. A nesting pair, we think - two together a lot. Up high in a tree. Down low on a branch. Sitting in a tree near a nest. I spotted an immature (brown foliage) eagle too. We also saw wood ducks, some herons, and later on a flock that seemed to be a mix of geese and some white bird - tundra swans? snow geese?

Scene on the River

We took a break after paddling about five miles, landing to stretch our legs and have a snack. It was at this point that we saw the geese / swans, a flock of which took off with a cool sound of massed beating wings.

Taking a break really helped my back. I felt much better as we started paddling again, which was good because we shortly hit some unexpectedly rough conditions. The wind, which had been forecast to be about 10 MPH, instead whipped up to about 20 (that's my estimate, confirmed from data I was able to find online). That kicked up some significant waves. To quote Deke's write-up of the trip, "What started out on the first half of the trip as a cake walk (with a little bit of wind for interest) turned into a different paddle on the return. Whitecaps, headwinds, broaching waves, follow[ing] seas, and even a little bit of surfing." Fortunately it never got too rough and we were never far from shore, so the wind and chop was fun, not scary.

When we got back I found my back was feeling much better than when we had started - kayaking is good medicine! I really do think the movement helps. We all said our goodbyes - until the next WASUP-DOCK adventure.

Distance: 10.7 mi