Monday, May 30, 2016

The Source of the Nile

Contrary to the title of this posting, we did not set off to find the source of the Nile.We didn't even explore the head of the Anacostia. From the map it looks like you could paddle quite a ways upstream from where we put in, though it looks like just above where we put in the Anacostia splits into two rather narrow ditches running through developed areas - not great paddling. So perhaps we could make the claim that we explored the head of the part of the Anacostia that anyone would care to explore. As a claim it's not up there with finding Dr. Livingstone at Lake Tanganyika, but it'll have to do.

Six of us (Tall Tom, Jim, Larry, Susan, Rob and me) launched from Bladensburg Waterfront Park (a.k.a. the head of the part of the Anacostia that anyone would care to explore) on Memorial Day morning and headed downriver. In doing so we followed in the footsteps of Capt. John Smith, who explored the area in 1608. Man, that guy got around. 
The Upper Anacostia

The Anacostia has a reputation for being grimy and grungy, but in fact the upper portion is quite pleasant and free from development. As we headed downriver we saw several deer, a bald eagle, ducks, geese, turtles, and small mammals we never quite saw well enough to identify (beavers?). Fish were jumping.
Anacostia Eagle

About a mile down the river you pass Kenilworth Gardens on river left. On river right you can spy the edge of a golf course. The presence of a golf course in this area is a little bit of a surprise, given that the entrance to Bladensburg Park is surrounded by pawn shops and car repair shops. At this point you cross the border from PG County into DC. There is no indication of the border, though the Rt. 50 bridge is a pretty good proxy. 

Downriver from here you pass the National Arboretum. There's a small floating platform here where one can take out (I have done so on past trips). We were paddling at low tide and so the floating platform wasn't even floating - it was at the bottom of its pilings, listing to one side. We continued on, passing Kingman Island on river right. At high tide one could actually go around the other side of this island. When we passed the tide was out and so the channel at the top of the island was impassably dry.
Selfie with Rob

Past RFK Stadium signs of the city begin to appear, and at the railroad bridge the river takes on a notably more urban feel: marinas and development dot the shoreline. Anacostia Park is on river left. The park has a boat ramp - one of the few takeouts on the river. The marinas on the Anacostia are charmingly shabby affairs, filled with less-than-new boat. Classic Chris Crafts and the like that have seen better days, some listing one way or another. 

Next up is the Washington Navy Yard. Sadly, the USS Barry, which had been docked there as a "display ship" - part museum, part ceremonial location, was recently towed away.

Finally, we made it to the area of Nationals Park and Buzzard Point. The boat rental folks there were good enough to let us take out and take a break. 

Taking a Break

From there we turned around and headed back upriver. We pretty much retraced our steps. We did get warned away from the Navy Yard, as they were getting ready to fire their ceremonial cannons (in honor of the holiday) and we explored a little bit into Kenilworth Gardens.

13.3 miles all told. Better weather than predicted. A good outing.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

We Three Kings (and Accomplice) Take on Thomas Point

Let me tell you a story about three kings who travel from afar guided by an unnatural light. I'm, of course, talking about the Pirate Kings of the Pirates of Georgetown paddling out to Thomas Point lighthouse. But the day didn't start with the paddling trip, and the paddling trip didn't start as the paddling trip, so let me rewind a little.

One of our PoG regulars, Jim G., owns a house down in Chincoteague. Back last year Jim hatched the idea of going down there for a spring kayak trip. He invited Tall Tom, Larry and me (the afore-mentioned kings) - and we even put a date on the calendar for it; however, as the day approached the weather forecast looked terrible - high winds and heavy rains. So, after much gnashing of teeth we decided to postpone the weekend. Since we had all already planned to take Friday off (well, Tom and I did; the other guys are retired) and Friday's weather looked good, we decided we instead would do a significant day paddle.

But wait, it was also Bike to Work Day. Normally Tom & I are early morning people, but in this case I advocated for a post-rush hour start. This allowed everyone to take care of their morning duties of dog-walking and such, and let me join in on Bike to Work Day. Yes, at 7 AM I biked to work, well actually the pit stop a block from my office where I picked up swag (t-shirt, Capital Bikeshare socks, and the expected water bottle). I then turned right around and biked back home. It's embarrassing what I'll do for a free t-shirt ... I mean, I wanted to show my support for bike-friendly activities!
Bike to Work Pit Stop Shenanigans

After changing from kayaking to paddling clothes I headed to Annapolis. Jim and Larry are resolute regulars on Thursday nights, but the two of them have done little kayaking elsewhere. They're both sailors and have been on the Chesapeake Bay, but never by kayak.

It was indeed a beautful day - warm but not hot, little wind, calm water. We launched from Truxton Park and headed out Spa Creek, which is always fun because of the variety and number of boats and houses along the way. Fun scenery. There are always some impressive yachts around the area known as "ego alley", but rarely anything as big as the mega-yacht that was docked there on this trip. This thing towered over everything else in the harbor. And it's available for charter, for on $160,000 per week - plus expenses, of course.

Out of Spa Creek, southeast into the Severn River, head south at Tolly Point. We took a lunch break at the beach in front of the Chesapeake Conservancy. The Conservancy boasts one of the greenest buildings on the planet - LEED Platinum certified - but it's an office building and so they weren't really into having a group of mangy kayakers wandering into their building. They were very nice about it, though, and invited us to explore the outside as much as we wanted. I will note that at a nature conservancy on Bike to Work Day there was only *one* bike in the bike rack.

Anyway, from there we headed straight out to the lighthouse - about two miles southeast at that point - where we all posed for the obligatory pictures. We then made a beeline back to Tolly Point. We took another snack/bio break on the way back. As I was launching a couple of waves broke over my boat, filling it with quite a bit of water. It took me a little while to get the boat pumped out and get going, by which point the other guys were wondering what was going on. Tom came over and gently inquired if I was OK. In fact, I was feeling great. I had been nursing my water supply a little bit (note to self - go back to using the *big* Camelback) but knowing that we were close to home, at the break I drank most of my remaining water, which eased the tiredness I had been feeling on the paddle back in from the lighthouse. I guess I had been getting dehydrated, not helped by the fact that I was a little over-dressed in a full "Farmer John" wet suit on a warm day.
At the Lighthouse

We made one more stop on the way back. We pulled out at Annapolis Canoe & Kayak to browse and visit Dave I., our friend who works there. Total mileage, 16.3.

Jim and Larry suggested a place called Cantler's for dinner. I was afraid that this would be one of those "Salty Seamen Crab Shack" shellfish-only kinda places where I can never find anything to eat but, to their credit, they had a variety of regular fish as well as shellfish items on the menu. I'm glad I had GPS to guide me - the place is an old neighborhood place deep into a residential neighborhood, and you have to take a lot of turns to get there. Consider it the Aunt Bella's of Annapolis. Most impressive was the group of Naval Academy plebes in their dress white uniforms eating crab and lobster. Now that takes caution!

I really wanted a beer but was tired from the day's biking and paddling exertions and so wisely, I think, stuck to iced tea. I got home and actually had to nap for 15 minutes before I even had the energy to unload my gear! I think I've got to get back into paddling shape and get used to the sun. Anyway, it was a great day with great companions.
At the Lighthouse

And on Saturday I caught up on work, which wasn't so back because, as forecast, it turned out to be a rainy, yucky day.

Friday, May 6, 2016

2016 SK102

This past weekend was the 18th annual Chesapeake Paddlers Association SK102 kayak symposium. I have written about this event before and so I’ll provide only highlights.
I got on the road a little after 10AM on Friday. As I merged onto the Beltway I noticed a familiar site out of the corner of my eye. I was driving next to the coordinator of the club, easily recognizable in the “big white truck” with two kayaks on the roof. We continued in parallel for a while until I got off at Springfield for a grocery stop. Friday was the tail end of Passover, a period when Jews are not supposed to eat “leavened” items – which includes pretty much all breads, cakes, pasta, and breakfast cereal as well as beer. This had added a little challenge to provisioning food for the trip, as I didn’t have much around the house in terms of fresh bread, and so at the supermarket I loaded up with bread, muffins and granola to enjoy over the weekend once I could eat them again. I arrived at Lake Anna at around lunchtime and set to work making camp. The ground was too wet to allow driving down to the camping area and setting up involved a lot of schlepping between the parking area and the camping area. I set up in my usual spot, near where Suzanne, Susan G. and Marilyn were camping. We were soon joined by Dave I. and “Coughing Bob”. I call him that because he coughed all night – which I could easily hear from my tent. Suzanne brought her enormous rain tarp, which she was insistent on setting up. This took a ridiculously long time, but wound up being valuable later when the rains came (as they inevitably do at SK102).

The big tarp - my tent is the yellow one

Memorable quote #1: a woman named Nancy came over to our campsite to introduce herself. It was her first time at SK102. When Susan introduced herself Nancy said, “Oh, we’ve met before. I remember you because I recognize your teeth. I’m in the dental profession and I notice people’s mouths.”

Friday night’s activities include an instructors’ potluck (my contribution was hummus – home made by Ted!), the instructors’ coordination meeting, and a night paddle. For the first time I opted to skip the night paddle. A bunch of us who didn’t go paddling gathered under the enormous tarp. We were having a good conversation, until we were joined by one of the other instructors who seems to be unable to talk about anything but kayaking. Suddenly the conversation became a lecture on handling tides and currents when kayaking and a discourse on why contact tow lines should always, always include a quick release mechanism. I wasn’t really in the mood for a skills lecture and so I got up and took a little walk. When I got back they were all gone – all that was left behind was Reggie’s potato chips. I didn’t know where they had gone (just up the hill to another campsite, it turned out) and so I retired to my tent.

Here’s an example of electronics have changed camping. Years ago, tent time mean reading a book by flashlight. Some years ago I started bringing my iPad. This allowed me to read books without needing a flashlight, and also opened the door to other activities – including writing blog entries. Well, this weekend for the first time I used my phone as a WiFi hotspot and streamed Netflix. 

I slept well and awakened Saturday AM refreshed. One of the great SK102 innovations a few years ago was group coffee. Sue S. gets up at 4 AM to put up a bunch of coffee urns. This eliminates the need and time needed for 150 people to individually fire up their camp stoves in the morning and also provides a nice early morning gathering point by the water. I filled my first mug of coffee and returned to the campsite where I ate a breakfast of yogurt and, since it was no longer Passover, a bran muffin, which tasted really good!

The Morning Briefing on Saturday
Saturday morning I taught the basic introductory class with Suzanne. This class is partially on land, and the water part consists of basic strokes and teaching people to wet exit. The latter activity – learning how to get out of your kayak if you capsize, if a point of anxiety for a lot of students. We had a gung-ho bunch this time – no real hesitation in doing the wet exit. Everyone succeeded, no one drowned.

Last year’s SK102 featured miserable weather – drenching rains and cold temps. My dry suit leaked while I was demonstrating rescues in the morning, getting me all wet. I spent lunchtime in my sleeping bag warming up. This year the weather was better and my dry suit’s new gaskets worked as intended.  It was cool enough that I kept my dry suit on through lunch, but not at all unpleasant. My lunch was composed of a collection of leftovers and quick items – hummus, tuna, carrots, berries.
In the afternoon I taught basic rescues and towing with Greg H. Greg is one of those guys who has been around the kayaking scene a long time. I’ve heard his name, but I didn’t really know him except by his reputation as a very skilled paddler. He turned out to be a good teacher and up on the latest orthodoxy (for example, the “T rescue” has changed a little bit in that you no longer have the victim help you empty and right his/her boat). Our class was small – only four students, including a woman on a sit-on-top and a guy who said he was too tired to get in the water. Rescue training is all about getting into and out of the water, and is focused on sit-in kayaks and so these two – half our class - posed a bit of a problem. We made the best of it. The not-into-the-water guy was willing to be the rescuer, and it was interesting to try having a sit-on-top kayaker rescue other kayakers. Towards the end of the class we taught some basic towing during which Greg explained why in his opinion contact towing lines should never, never have quick release mechanisms. Greg was intent on teaching the whole syllabus which meant we were the last group off the water.

The time after classes on Saturday is usually a nice relaxing time – try out some other kayaks, mess around on the lake, or perhaps take a nap. As I mentioned, my group finished late and then, due to a mixup, some of us had to run and move our cars. By the time I finished all and got changed the free time was about used up and it was time for Dubside’s rolling demo, which was better than ever. He’s added a new roll for the finale (combining the brick and lit candle tricks he previously demo’d) and has really improved the patter that goes with the demo. Fun as always. From there it was straight into the big group cookout. Again, this is usually a slow-paced time, but as the “Musical Director” of the Chesapeake Pickers Association (the volunteer band) I still had work to do. I ate quickly and began hauling music gear down to the waterfront.

This year’s band was just a trio – me, with Paul C. on guitar and Moulton on bongos. We played for about 90 minutes, interrupted by a tribute to Bill Dodge, a long-time area kayaker and club member who passed away recently. When your set is interrupted by a memorial service it’s a little hard to pick up again – how do you segue back to light-hearted entertainment? Fortunately Paul had brought an old (published in 1961!) book of Pete Seeger songs, from which we selected “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore”. The song is actually an old spiritual and the lyrics about crossing the River Jordan seemed appropriate. In all we played for almost 90 minutes and even had people up and dancing!
Making Music
Memorable Quote #2: Paul C. and I were standing around the campfire later in the evening after we got all the equipment packed away. It was dark and so hard to see who was around. Suddenly I heard someone - who clearly didn't realize I was within earshot - mention my name. One of the people sitting by the campfire was saying, “That guy Jesse? He was one of my instructors this morning. I didn’t know he also played piano. He’s really good!” Poor Paul – the unnoticed Picker. He deserves recognition too. The problem is he plays very softly. He needs to learn to turn up the volume! Anyway, I'm as much of a sucker for compliments as anyone, so I went to sleep Saturday night happy.

Sunday dawned cool and rainy, as is typical of SK102. As usual, this caused a lot of people to just pack up and go home. I felt that urge myself. It’s funny: I spent all of Saturday getting wet jumping into the lake, but Sunday I woke and said, “Ick! It’s wet out!” I think it’s something about camping in the rain. I packed everything in the tent up before even getting out of my tent, intent on leaving as quickly as possible; however, once I went down to the waterfront for my coffee and started socializing, I slowed down and got out of hurry mode. As we huddled under the pop-up shelter Woody started a spirited argument about whether government should actively encourage and discourage behavior (this started with talking about smoking and cigarette taxes). Woody is a lawyer and a former Navy Seal – he likes to argue and he likes to win. Slowly, the other people under the tent melted away – not many people, not even several other attorneys – really wanted to be part of a bloody political debate at 6:30 AM (BTW, Woody was on the side of keeping the stupid meddlesome gummint bureaucrats out of people’s business). Some of us, having retreated from the waterfront, reconvened back under Suzanne’s tarp where we lingered over breakfast, waiting for a break in the rain. The more dedicated folks went on with their Sunday classes, both on and off the water. When the rain let up I packed my soggy belongings into the car and headed for home mid-morning having had, as always, a good time.
Watching Dubside's Rolling Demo

Unfortunately a number of regulars didn’t make it this year: Tall Tom, Rob P., Jim Z., Yvonne, etc. Bela was there – it was good to catch up with him. The guy who didn’t want to get into the water Saturday turned out to be a really nice guy. And a neighbor of mine – a “McKinley mom” we know from our kids’ elementary school days – was there! Unfortunately she wasn’t able to stay over Saturday night due to family obligations. She would have been an asset  on vocals to the Pickers.