Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Short Hike in Great Falls

Yesterday I felt the need to get outdoors for a bit. I headed to Great Falls. Parked at the Difficult Run parking lot, hiked around into Great Falls Park, down to the river, then up the Ridge Trail to the Old Carriage Road. Hiked up the Old Carriage Road a ways, then turn around and used that as a shortcut back to the parking lot. A nice loop.

Most of the trees are bare, but this one holdout over the gorge was still wearing its fall colors.

The gray, late fall day seemed almost black and white. This picture of leaves glistening along the trail is not black and white - the scene is just almost devoid of color.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Here, There and Everywhere

The low part of the trip came Friday morning. Bleary-eyed, I left my room, went down to breakfast, drank about twice as much coffee as usual (which is saying something) and then went to return to my room only to realize that I had no idea what my room number was. I actually had to go to the front desk and ask them to tell me my room number. I had gotten in late the previous night after a delayed flight back out of Atlanta, and had gotten to bed around 3 AM. The previous night I hadn't slept well because of job stress, and the day before that had been one of those 12+ hour days I tend to have when I travel. And here I was at the crack of, well, maybe it was 7 AM or so trying to function. Worse yet, I had driven from Richmond (where I had pre-positioned my car and kayak gear before flying to Mississippi) to Williamsburg to be near the kayak group, and they had chosen to paddle closer back towards Richmond to accommodate me since they assumed I was staying in Richmond. So, grabbing yet another cup of coffee I dragged myself out to the car for the 25 minute drive to Eagle's Landing.

Everyone is ready to launch - except my boat is still on the car

Well, no matter. I got to Eagle's Landing only 15 minutes late. The group was still milling about getting ready to leave and so I only held things up a little bit. We paddled upriver through the narrow, upper Chickahominy River, up to the Rt. 155 bridge. There was a lot of water in the river and so we were able to make it up past the bridge into some abandoned, flooded old gravel pits. The pits offered some nice shoreline for a lunch break.

Lunch Break at the pits

After lunch some folks headed straight back. I, feeling surprisingly energetic, joined the sub-group which chose to explore the pits - which are essentially interconnected small lakes - for a bit. Pastor Pete, who used to live in Richmond and paddle this area, thought there was another passage through the pits  to the "Old Chickhominy" which would have allowed us to do a loop to get back to Eagle's, but after several dead ends we gave up and headed back the way we came.

Friday's route is upper left, Saturday's lower right

I had marked waypoints at the little cut-throughs between pits so we could find our way back. I served as navigator on the way back, head down staring at my GPS to guide us waypoint-by-waypoint back to the river. Meanwhile, Jim A. was way out in front as he used his animal-like sense of the lay of the land to naturally find his way back. Like most people I can get turned around on the water - a lot of shoreline looks the same! - but Jim is one of those people who somehow through instinct always knows where he is.

I mentioned earlier that the Chick had a lot of water in it. That was great for extending our paddle to the upper reaches of the river, but it also made for some tricky flows  to deal with as we made our way through the twists and turns of the river. On the way up Linda D. got pinned by the flow against a "strainer" - a downed tree in the river, and on the way back she got taken by surprise by an overhanging branch and capsized. That left us having to do a rescue in a rapidly flowing river - not an easy task. It's funny - the river was no more than 50 ft. across at that point. No one was ever far from shore and no one was in real danger. But still, maneuvering kayak and paddler to a spot where they could be safely reunited was tough.

Suzanne and Pastor Pete rescue Linda

The rest of the trip back was fortunately uneventful and when we got back everyone headed back to the campsite. I hadn't brought my camping gear with me - the whole notion of rolling straight from a business trip into camping seemed like a bridge too far - and so continued to stay at the hotel. I headed back there to clean up. had planned to stop by the campground to catch Paula's presentation on VHF radio usage (as well as Ron's inexplicable group Erev Shabbat service) but on the drive to the hotel my tiredness finally hit me and I chose to nap. Or rather, a nap chose me.

I woke up in time to go to dinner. That was its own little drama, which I won't bore you with. Bottom line, Rob, Sophie, Suzanne, Madeline and I wound up at Two Forks Diner, where some other folks were already  eating. There wasn't much on the menu which wasn't shellfish, pork, or mixed meat/dairy. For me the choice came down to a burger or spaghetti and meatballs. I ordered the latter, which included what may have been meatballs and may have been leftover Civil War cannon balls - it was hard to tell. Well, the place did have a nice, friendly down-home southern diner charm, even if their choice of wines was, "red or white".

After dinner the group headed back to the campground. I returned to the hotel and went straight to bed.

Saturday morning I met the group at the campground as folks were finishing breakfast and getting ready to hit the water. A group of us had decided to paddle straight from the campground's boat ramp, avoiding having to transit to the put-in. This put us on a lower, somewhat more open section of the Chickahominy River. We headed upriver into the wind, which made for a tiring paddle, then did a loop through some marshes - into one creek and out another. We launched at 9:30 AM and by noontime everyone was ready for a break, but in the marshy areas it was impssible to find a landing spot with solid ground and room for 11. Finally, back out on the Chick we found a little beach where we were all able to stop for a lunch break. For the second day in a row I had brought a can of tuna but no utensil with which to eat it. It was one of those cans of spicy Thai seasoned tuna - tasty, but quite oily and therefore messy. But I was undaunted. I stuck a finger into empty wrapper from a granola bar and used it as a scoop to eat the tuna - pretty sloppy going, but well within the bounds of kayak etiquette. After lunch it was a fairly short paddle back - a 15-16 mile day.

November sunshine - Saturday
A highlight of the Chickahominy trip is always the Saturday night potluck. As usual, it was a varied and delicious feast - roast meats, turkey chili, salads, stews, veggies, and potatoes from Ron the potato man. Saturday night was also the only time I got to see the whole group of roughly two dozen, since people were doing different paddles on different days. After the pot luck we went to the adjacent site where the campfire was burning. People were astounded that I was going to drive home that night - until they realized that, though it was dark, it was only 6:45 PM, easily enough time to do a 2 1/2 hour drive and still get home at a reasonable hour. As it happened, while Tall Tom took off at about that time I wound up hanging around until 8 or so - and still got home at a reasonable hour.

And so there you have it - my take on how to visit three cities in two states, do two kayak trips, and most importantly, go cold weather camping without ever sleeping outside, all in 5 days' time.

OK, this is nerdy, even by kayaker standards