Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Birthday Paddle

A number of years ago I used to organize a kayak outing the weekend of my birthday (which is also the weekend before Thanksgiving). That's usually just about the tail end of sane kayaking season. At that point it's cold enough that dry suits are needed, but not so cold as to chill you to the bone. Looking back on in the archives of this blog, the trip seems to have fallen by the wayside (or at least wasn't written about) after 2012. Well, I started this year having to revive myself, so I figure why not revive a kayaking ritual as well?

Six paddlers (Al L., Susan G., Jim G., Larry I., Rob P. and I) met at the traditional location, Mason Neck. It wasn't a super-cold day, but high winds were in the forecast, just like 2008's paddle. So, as we have done in the past on windy days, instead of heading out into the river we stayed in the more protected waters of Belmont Bay and the Occoquan River. We kayaked up the river as far as Occoquan Regional Park, where there's a car-top boat landing. All of us except Larry got out and took a break there - Larry preferred to just float around.

On the way back we were paddling into the wind, and when we came out of the river into Belmont Bay it began to be pretty hard work - some whitecaps, and waves rolling over the deck. We knew we had a section ahead of us where the wind was going to be abeam, which makes it tough to control the kayaks. Rob had the idea that rather than paddle straight back we should do a "dog leg" - turn starboard into the wind then ride downwind on a final leg. Three of us (Rob, Susan and I) tried that approach. It didn't really work out that well - the upwind leg took us into an area of hydrilla (water plant) and the combination of the thick plant growth and the wind made for some really difficult paddling. Al, on the other hand, just let the wind push him across the river, winding up far to the left of the launch, which required him to do a final leg back along the shoreline to the launch once he got across the bay. The remaining two paddlers toughed out the direct route. And you know what? We all got back to the launch at about the same time.

All of us were, of course, bundled up in dry suits. Susan was in addition wearing a neoprene hood, which is a good idea, but opened her up to teasing from Jim about how she looked like Snoopy in his World War I Flying Ace getup. "Have you spotted the Red Baron?", he kept asking. After the paddle, through the wonders of the Internet, he bought and sent her a set of aviator goggles - she was gracious enough to send us a picture of herself in fully Snoopy regalia

Where's the Red Baron?

After the paddle we went over to Fairwinds Brewery - which was hopping (no pun intended) - where we had beer and food. Being a brewery, Fairwinds doesn't have a kitchen, but there was a food truck outside. I got an outstanding banh mi sandwich and a stout (eschewing my typical IPA). I was good in terms of my eating and did not even taste the duck fat french fries, but I understand they were out of this world. Bela joined us there, late in the game due to traffic. After everyone else headed out I hung out just with Bela for a while, which was nice.

A successful outing and a nice part of my birthday celebration. The paddle was only about eight miles, but the wind made it feel longer.

My birthday celebration also included:
- Shawn Colvin concert at the Birchmere with Valerie
- Family dinner
- Going to see Dead and Company with Valerie (and, apparently, my third cousin whom I had never met before - but that's a story for another time) at the Verizon Center
- Buying a new suit
- Some cool presents (bike computer, new electric drill, etc.)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Movie at Sarah Bee's

Veteran's Day weekend initially shaped up to be a pretty bad one. I had been planning to go on the Chesapeake Paddler's Association Chickahominy trip but, truth be told, I had a mixture of eager anticipation and dread about the trip. Anticipation becuase it's always a big crowd and therefore a good time; dread because it's always cold, and I don't like cold. This year was promising an extra-freezing experience, with lows in the 20's. I had reserved an electric site and so I figured I could tough out the nights with the aid of an electric blanket, but I really wasn't looking forward to being cold all weekend. The forecast was unpleasant enough that a hardier camper than I had arranged to stay at Cat's vacant apartment in Richmond on Friday to avoid the coldest night and had gotten a few others, including me, invited as well. As an aside, Cat's condo is in a building that was originally built as a synagogue, and so I had my jokes at the ready. "Well, this isn't the first time I'll be sleeping in synagogue - but usually it's during the sermon."

Anyway, I woke up Friday feeling like I was coming down with something. I'm more than a little paranoid about getting sick. I haven't been sick since my surgery, and the fact that they gave me a pneumonia shot (normally recommended only for those 65 and older) makes me feel that getting sick is a bad idea. Truth be told, I wasn't really feeling very social either - which I recognize as being part of the persistent poor mental state I've been keeping myself in lately (based on my non-stop obsessing over my health). So, I cancelled out of the trip. Missing trips is also not good for my mental state - when I miss a trip I usually spend the whole time grousing about how I should be on the trip. Still, it was for the best.

Unfortunately, all of my friend's other paddling partners for Friday cancelled on her too (Cat slept in, Rob was late getting down that way) and she wound up frsutrated at not being able to paddle. She emailed that I should have given her more notice because she left early in the morning expecting to paddle with me. Like I wasn't already feeling bad for missing out on a long-planned trip and needed guilt from her. In case I hadn't gotten the message, she emailed me again later in the day to once again chide me for not having given her enough notice when I cancelled.

By Saturday I had decided that whatever I was feeling wasn't anything serious and decided to join in a party/movie showing at Sarah Bee's house (note: "Sarah Bee" is her forum name, not her real name. Though the "bee" thing must be something she uses consistently, since her house has any number of bee-themed accents. Now, when you go to a cycling event you pretty much have to arrive by bicycle. However, Sarah lives near College Park, which is a healthy ride from home: about 16 miles each way. Now, I would have had no problem riding that kind of distance on the way there, but I was a little worried about riding it again going home in the dark after the event. Some folks were convoying from Gravelly Point (closer in in Arlington) but I knew they'd be traveling too fast for me - and that if I did ride with them the ride home would take me back to Gravelly Point, leaving me wit the problem of getting home from there at the end of the night. So, I cheated a little bit. I took Metro to Federal Center and biked from there. Instead of taking the most direct route I detoured to match the route the convoy would be taking and timed it so that (according to my best estimate) I would intersect with them around the Navy Yard Metro stop. This was a chancy approach since if I didn't meet them I would have to find my way to Sarah's solo, which I had a good but not perfect idea of how to do.

I got to Navy Yard and joined the path I expected the convoy to be taking - marveling at the fact that I was biking solo through Southeast DC, which at one time would have been a suicide mission. The convoy must have gotten a later start than I expected, since I was about 3 1/2 miles past Navy Yard when they finally caught me. They caught up with me at a perfect time: the bulk of the ride is on the Anacostia River Trail, which is pretty easy to follow. There's only one part that's a little confusing as there's a discontinuity in the trail and you have to ride through the streets for a few blocks. I was stopped on the street puzzling about whether I had gone the right way or not when suddenly they came into view. I started pedaling and joined the group as it flew by.

And "flew by" it did. If you look at a plot of speed vs. time for the trip you'll see my speed suddenly jump up almost 5 MPH from my meandering solo speed to the bullet train convoy speed. I had to really work to keep up - but the thing is, I did it, which helped me realize that my typically slow riding is at least in part me just not being motivated to push myself. I rode about 12 miles.

At Sarah's
Anyway, Sarah has a cute little house. She had all of us bring our bikes inside, filling both the room normally devoted to bike stuff and another bedroom with bikes. She had worked with SteveO on preparation and had quite a lovely spread, including homemade gingerbread (baked in bee-shaped molds) which smelled delicious, but which which i didn't eat, since I'm trying to stay away from desserts.

Guest and hostess (Sarah is on the right)

The main feature of the evening was watching the cycling movie "Slaying the Badger" about Greg LeMond's entry into the Tour de France and the help (and putative double cross) he received from team captain Bernard Hinault. I enjoyed the movie, though I sensed I would have enjoyed it even more if I had the slightest idea of how bike racing works.

At the end of the party we all stumbled over each other getting our bikes out of the two little bedrooms and then went on our way. I certainly didn't want to try to keep up with the convoy in the dark on twisty, wet leaf covered trails, so I didn't join them. Fortunately, I knew that some people were planning to Metro home so I biked with a few people over to the College Park Metro stop (only a mile and change from Sarah's house). We all rode the Green line together. Jeanne and Bettina continued on Green, while Karen W and I switched to the Orange line. Eventually it was just me left, and I made it home to EFC and did the short ride from the Metro to home without incident.

Waiting for the Metro heading home

Quite an adventure - my first ride on the (relatively new) Anacostia River trail!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Coffeeneuring 2017 Rides 5-7

Coffeeneuring Ride #5: FCC on Veterans' Day

  • Where: Java Shack 2507 Franklin Rd, Arlington, VA and Northside Social 3211 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA
  • Date: Friday 11/11/17
  • Beverage: Decaf skim latte from Northside, maple muffin from Java Shack. 
  • Total mileage: 9.5 Miles
  • Details: Regular readers know that there are morning coffee meetups around DC pretty much every weekday. I decided to stop by the Friday Coffee Club at Java Shack in the Courthouse neighborhood of Arlington. It being a holiday, they apparently decided to open later than usual. Another cyclist regular and I got there at 7 to find the door locked. A few minutes later the pastry delivery guy arrived and we followed him inside, where we discovered that they hadn't even started brewing coffee yet - it was going to be a while before we would be served there. The shop owner, feeling bad, gave us each a muffin gratis. We hopped back on our bikes and rode over to Northside Social, which was open as usual. Some of the "cool kids", as my compatriot refers to them, have their own coffee gathering at Northside (these are the elite riders - the folks who pump out 50 miles of hill riding before their 7 AM coffee). There's some sort of bad blood between the guy I was with and someone in the "cool kids", and it was interesting to watch the two of them assiduously ignore each other - not even a "hello" exchanged. Anyway, we were joined by reji, who was heading to Upstate New York for the weekend (not by bicycle). My friend, who was not off from work, went off to his office and I headed home. 
  • Strava:

Coffeeneuring Ride #6A: Bonus ride (the same day as ride 6 so it doesn't count)

  • Where: Buzz Coffee 818 N. Quincy St., Arlington, VA
  • Date: Friday 11/17/17
  • Beverage: Three shot Americano - two decaf shots, one regular
  • Details: Kayak friend Jim had provided great moral support to me in the period following my surgery, but then sort of disappeared. It turns out he's been dealing with complicated eldercare issues. It was nice to finally have a chance to sit and catch up.
  • Total mileage: 5.7 Miles
  • Strava:

Coffeeneuring Ride #6: Accordioneuring/Coffeenuring/CoffeeOutside

Coffeeneuring Ride #7: Sleaze Ride to The Italian Store 
  • Where: The Italian Store, 5837 Washington Blvd, Arlington, VA
  • Date: Sunday 11/19/17
  • Beverage: Decaf skim latte
  • Details: Dang. It's the afternoon of the last day of Coffeeneuring and I'm one ride short. And it's a yucky kind of windy. Time for a ride to the closest place to get a decent cup of coffee - The Italian Store at Westover. They actually brew a decent cup there. I averted my eyes to avoid being tempted by the pastries. Cannoli are one of my favorite foods in the whole world, but they're definitely a "no no" these days.
  • Total mileage: 2.3 Miles
  • Strava:

Friday, November 17, 2017


Someone who saw my Accordioneur patch in a photo in the FB Coffeeneuring group asked whether biking with an accordion was even possible and so I decided to document a combined accordioneuring / coffeeneuring ride.

Here is my full rig. The accordion is in the backback, the french press is in a water bottle cage, and the stove is in the trunk bag. Fingerless gloves are recommended for maximum playing dexterity, though lightweight glove liners can be worn it needed. Many accordionists advise against high visibility clothing since it makes you an easier target, but since there is only infrequently vehicular traffic on the W&OD I figured it was safe to wear the yellow jacket.

Having arrived at my "Coffee Outdoors" location (no coffee shop would allow me in with an accordion), I proceed to heat the water. As an accordionist it is important to handle the flame yourself since your "friends" will tend to light the wrong thing on fire.

Accordionati Rule #8: Bars and accordions shall be carefully matched.

What shall I do while the water is heating? How about a polka?!


What should I do while the coffee is brewing? How about another polka?!

Ahhh, the perfect cup.

Only the best get to wear this patch.

Heading home

Back home and ready for a second cup.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Coffeeneuring 2017 Rides 1-4

Last year I explained that the cycling world has a lot of fun (or gimmicky, depending on your mindset) little challenges, one of which is Coffeeneuring. Promoted by the Chasing Mailboxes cycling blog, is a "relaxed cycling endeavor" requiring you to take seven rides to seven different places to get coffee over the course of about seven weeks. I got jazzed about it last year. Not so much this year. In fact, I thought it was over November 7th, but when I realized the deadline was November 19th, I got a little more motivated and may yet make the seven rides. Here's what I've done so far:

Coffeeneuring Ride #1: Rare Bird, Falls Church
  • Where: Rare Bird Coffee Roasters, 230 W. Broad St., Falls Church, VA
  • Date: Saturday 10/14/17
  • Beverage: Decaf skim latte
  • Details: While the cat is away, the mice will bike rather than drive to the farmers' market. Valerie had things to do so we skipped our usual Saturday morning "date" at the Falls Church Farmer's Market. I was pretty exhausted, having been out late the night before performing with Magnolia Blue at a fund-raiser (I also sat in with the Flying Eyez). It was only when I hopped on my bike to go for a ride I realized how really, really tired I was. Instead of the long ride I had envisioned, I just headed to the farmers' market, then rode the couple of blocks over to Rare Bird. I really could have used some cafffeine, but since my surgery I'm trying to stay clear of that particular demon drug.
  • Total mileage: 3.8 Miles
  • Strava:

Latte at Rare Bird

Coffeeneuring Ride #2: Hump Day Coffee Club 
  • Where: Best Buns, 4010 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA
  • Date: Wednesday 10/18/17
  • Beverage: Mostly decaf with a little regular, bran muffin
  • Details: Is it crazy to take a job based on being able to make it to coffee club? I don't think any of my coffee club friends would think so. For readers who don't know, coffee club is a rotating set of early morning cyclist gatherings - mostly bike commuters on their way to work. I started attending them when I was working in Arlington in 2015 and really missed the camaraderie once my job moved to Frederick. Well, I'm back working in Arlington and I'm back going to coffee club! This was day 3 of my new job and was my first day bike commuting to the job. Wednesday is my favorite coffee club because it's at Best Buns, which has awesome baked goods. I can easily skip the food at the other coffee clubs.
  • Total mileage: 10.3 Miles
  • Strava:
Coffee and a muffin at Best Buns

Coffeeneuring Ride #3: Cafe Kindred 
  • Where: Cafe Kindred, 450 N. Washington St., Falls Church, VA
  • Date: Friday 11/3/17
  • Beverage: Decaf skim latte
  • Details: So, this was a productive outing. I biked over to Cassatt's Cafe to meet my friend Larry for lunch. Now that I'm back to being a sleazy contractor I need to look for inroads into new business and I pumped him for leads. Oh, and it was nice to see him, too :) From there I went down to Ballston to pick up an EZPass for my wife (props to her for not being overly car-dependent - she's lived without an EZPass for four years now), scouted some locations for a geocache, then went to Kindred for a latte. Actually, I don't really like the vibe at Kindred - it's one of those places where they seem put upon when they have to rouse themselves to fulfill your order. I was going to head for Rare Bird but then realized I needed to avoid duplicates for Coffeeneuring. So, Kindred it was. This was a fortuitous choice as I ran into a local Realtor who has hired one of my bands for events before. I struck up a conversation with her which almost lead to a gig this coming Tuesday, got her to think about hiring us again for her St. Patrick's Day and certainly refreshed her memory of us. Very productive business development :)
  • Total mileage: 11.9 Miles
  • Strava:
Note the Coffeeneuring and Accordioneuring patches on my bike bag

Coffeeneuring Ride #4: The Green Lizard 
  • Where: The Green Lizard Cycling, Coffee and Beer, 718 Lynn St., Herndon, VA 
  • Date: Saturday 11/5/17
  • Beverage: Decaf skim latte
  • Details: An early start to the day. I met my friend Denis and Katie's Cars and Coffee in Great Falls at 7:30 AM. He and I strolled and looked at all the exotic and fancy cars. After we parted ways at around 9, I drove down to the W&OD at Reston and went for a 20 mile ride. As I passed the Gren Lizard on my way back I thought, "I should make a coffeeneuring stop." I was a mile and a half from the end of my ride and to tell you the truth, I could have lived without another cup of coffee. But "Cycling, Coffee, and Beer" with a lizard theme is a hard combo to resist. As I rode up another cyclist asked me about my bike - apparently the Lynskey is something of a cult machine, and he was really digging the titanium frame. Anyway, I sat outside and it turned out to be a very pleasant way to wind down from a fast-paced start to the day.
  • Total mileage: 20.8 Miles
  • Strava:
Outside The Green Lizard

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Magothy Meandering

This has been an odd year for exercise, what with my surgery interrupting just about all activity just as springtime was getting going. I haven't been on an organized CPA paddling trip all year, and so when I packed my car and headed for the put-in I had this weird feeling like when you visit the neighborhood where you grew up - I thought, "This is something I used to do." That little bit of dissociation aside, I made it to the put-in with no issues.

This is the first time I've been on a trip with this trip leader and I quickly learned that he has a loose style of trip leading. He let me join last-minue (that's good) but while he announced that he was going to do a pre-trip briefing he never wound up doing one, and we made it only part-way around group introductions before that effort fell apart. So, I got on the water having no idea where we were going or how long we were going to be out for other than the description on Meetup of "over ten miles".

We crossed the Magothy and went up through some pretty light fog over the top of Gibson Island, then poked into various coves and creeks. Since I like to have a plan, the aimlessness of it got a little frustrating for me after a point - every time I thought we were heading back, we instead turned and headed for another creek. Eventually we all made it back just fine.

And as a bonus, there were three, count 'em three, people on the trip who had coronary bypass surgery in 2017. Rich S., in February, me in March, and another guy who had his in April. I held the winning hand in terms of number of bypasses (my four-of-a-kind beat their three-of-a-kind), but the April dude said that almost a quarter of his heart muscle died - so extra kudos to him for being out on the water so soon!

Strava track:

Through the fog

Bypass poker winner

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Apples and Goat Yoga

We have always loved a fall trip to pick apples. In fact, just today while looking through some old photos I found pictures of us picking apples with my friend Charles back in 1988. I didn't scan the pictures - but trust that I had enormous 1980's glasses and a pitiful mustache. I also found some pictures of us with Teddy & David on an apple-picking trip, probably in the early 2000's.

With some beautiful fall weather on tap (can we still say "Indian Summer"?) Valerie and I headed out to Markham, VA to pick some apples at Stribling Orchard.

This was a great year for apples. We've been going to the Markham orchards for years and I've never seen the trees bursting with beautiful, juicy apples the way they were this year. We picked to our hearts content until our bags were straining with a bushel full of apples.

When we were paying, Valerie chatted with one of the women working the cash registers and, through that amazing ability to instantly create rapport that Valerie has and I do not (I'm jealous of it), the woman took a break from working the register to slice up various apples from the bins so we could taste different varieties.

Taste test

American Gothic

After a quick lunch at Chick-fil-A (I was angling for the salad bar at Wegman's, but took a wrong turn) we continued on to our next excitement: goat yoga! Which is exactly what it sounds like it is. Over the years, the traditional focus and asceticism of yoga has yielded to "fun" combinations - yoga and beer, paddleboard yoga, yoga at The Kennedy Center, and even yoga while getting high (a cousin of Valerie's teaches a "yoganja" class in Washington state). And of course, there are animal variants: puppy yoga, kitten yoga, and (bringing us back to our main topic), goat yoga.

The class we went to was at a farm in Nokesville. It was a beautiful setting alongside the shore of Lake Manassas. As you do your yoga practice, goats, chickens and alpaca wander around through the class. The chickens and alpaca are skittish, but goats are quite friendly, and it's not uncommon to have someone stop their yoga practice to pick up and cuddle a baby goat. In fact, the whole class pauses here and there for goat time.

Goat yoga is a little chaotic - perhaps not for the yoga purist. As this CNN article points out, a goat might come along and pee on your mat (we saw this happen), and your peaceful shavasana might be interrupted by a gentle head butt (or worse yet, a goat chewing on your hair - not a problem I would have), but it sure is a lot of fun. The goats are ADORABLE.

We were among the oldest people there. I guess gimmick yoga is primarily a Millenial thing ...

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Thousand Islands Part 4: Wrapping it Up

Thursday 9/14

With only two days left of paddling, we decided to do another long outing: a trip through the Navy Islands and Raft Narrows to the Thousand Islands Bridge. This was another nice trip even though the outbound portion was my least favorite bit of paddling on the trip. Knowing that this was going to be another trip with long miles and strong currents, the night before the trip we had a group discussion. Since I was a little slower than the rest of the group, to some extent all week I had felt like when we were on the water I had to just paddle, paddle, paddle to keep up with the group. No stopping to catch my breath or take photos. Limited quick sips of water and no snack breaks. And still, I always felt a half step or so behind the group. I asked if we could take breaks every once in a while. Likewise, Rob requested that we stop occasionally so he could stretch his back. With two of the six of us requesting breaks, of course the response was that the remainder of the group ... paddled like they were being chased by f*cking sharks without taking a single break the whole eight miles to the bridge.
Approaching the Thousand Islands Bridge

Happy, despite working hard at paddling

Actually, the trip started with a sop to me. When we did our re-positioning I had forgotten to reload my pill container and so needed to stop by the car to refresh my supply of meds, so we started the day by paddling back to Misty Isles. Since we were going to the cars we also took the opportunity to transport some gear back - the less we had to pack out on Saturday, the easier it was going to be. So, we paddled to Misty Isles, and then we paddled like we were being chased by f*cking sharks the whole f*cking eight miles to the bridge. In the area just before the bridge, as the river narrows down, as promised in the water trail guide, there were indeed strong and squirrely currents; however, it was nothing we couldn't handle with a little boat control and some extra paddling effort drawn, in my case, from my very minimal reserve.

Fighting the current was kind of tiring. Fortunately, an island in close proximity to the bridge offered a very pleasant spot for lunch, the (technically closed) park on Georgina Island. We pulled out there and walked the island - like all the other camping areas we visited, it was deserted (except for some power boaters anchored in a cove). We spread out in the sunshine on the (technically closed) dock and had a nice lunch, resting up from our exertions. Tom had forgotten to bring his lunch, but fortunately we had lots of extra food (why was Suzanne carrying so many packs of peanut butter crackers??!) and were able to feed him. I had my one meat lunch of the week - perky turkey jerky!
Me again (Rob's picture)
Lunch break at the bridge (Rob's picture)

On the paddle back it was like I was with a different group. Maybe someone had whispered something, or maybe it was just that the f*cking sharks were no longer chasing us. On the beginning of the trip (against the strong current) we "eddied out" in calm spots sheltered by islands to rest. We took a mid-point break at the (technically closed) park on Mulcaster Island. And overall we set a much more leisurely pace. I was much happier and got to enjoy the scenery on the trip back.

We got back early enough to have a little happy hour and for me to relax in my hammock. We were near the trip and still had plenty of fuel left, so I actually heated water on the stove and added it into the solar shower, which provided me with my second hot shower of the week. Dinner was a camping adaptation of Jen's famous Chicken Marbella.

Friday 9/15

We had one "must do" trip left on our list - a paddle up Landon's Bay. This is a pretty, skinny stretch of water with high rick canyons on either side and a small waterfall at its far end. We had been warned, both by friends who had paddled there just weeks earlier and by Gail at Misty Isles that the creek was chocked with duckweed - a thick aquatic plant. However, when we had driven over the entrance to the bay it looked clear and so we decided to give it a go.

Except that we had to wait. We awoke Friday to dense fog. Thick, can't see anything kind of fog. Our plans for an early start changed to a leisurely breakfast as we waited for the fog to lift. Fortunately, by about 10 AM we began to see the outlines of other nearby islands and by 10:30 it was clear enough to launch. Landon's Bay was not far from Misty Isles and so we had a pretty good idea of how to get there (as well as GPS waypoints, of course). The fog continued to lift as we paddled and by the time we got there it was a bright grey sort of light - actually very pretty for viewing the cliffs.

The cliffs at Landons Bay

As we continue (seeing an eagle along the way) we started to encounter the duckweed and by the time we got to the back of the creek we were paddling through a thick green muck with floating solid blobs. Not super pleasant, particularly when we had to clamber through the stuff to get ashore for a lunch break (I almost gave up finding a place to land that wasn't totally mucky). Still, lunch at the waterfall was very pleasant, and when we got back we all spent time washing, as best we could, the duckweed slime from our boats. The challenge is that duckweed consists of zillions of tiny little leaves which are really hard to completely get rid of.

Our lunch break spot (Rob's pic)

It really was gloppy back there (Rob's pic)

Our last night's dinner was a pot luck. Rob had actually brought food (some more Tastybite Indian dinners) specifically for the pot luck, but the rest of us just put out our leftover food. Cheese, fig newtons, roasted chickpeas, apricots, peanut butter crackers, bread, trail mix, carrots, leftovers from prior nights, bourbon, more bourbon ... It was like a camping version of an Indonesian Rijsttafel. We always say that no one goes hungry on these trips, and even just eating leftovers made for a good meal.

I don't remember what day this was but it's a nice group photo

After dinner we did the dishes* and began to break camp in preparation for heading out the following morning. Down came some of the glamping gear: the shower, my hammock, etc. The solar panels were packed away. And so on. It was a cloudy night, so not much star-gazing to be done. We went to be early.

Saturday 9/16

We once again awoke to thick fog. Fortunately, by this time we had made the trip back and forth to Misty Isles enough times that we were sure we could do it even if we were socked in by fog. Our main concern was crossing the recreational boat channel with zero visibility.

This was the easiest packing and loading of the trip, as we had all used up most of our food and we had already brought some gear back - we all had plenty of room in our boats. It was still pretty foggy when we hit the water a little before 10 AM. We kept our eyes on the compass and the GPS, paddled a tight pattern, and listened carefully for other boats. Rob and Jim were out front. Tom was towing the canoe and Suzanne was once again behind it. Jen and I paddled on either side of  the canoe. Rob was doing a good job of setting a course but the current and the canoe conspired to constantly turn Tom, so as I paddled I provided course guidance to him ("turn about 10 degrees right"). If you look at the track you can see that early in the trip we twice actually let the current push us 90 degrees off course before we caught ourselves and corrected course. As we paddled we got better at dynamic course correction and were able to paddle a straight line the rest of the way back to Misty Isles. We did encounter a few power boats along the way. Fortunately we had a loud whistle/horn which we used as a fog horn to alert them of our presence, and we didn't have any problems.

Pea soup

Back at Misty Isles we, one more time, unpack the boats and loaded everything into our cars. We held our breath as we crossed the border, still worried that our Canadian check-in experience from Boldt Castle was going to trip us up as we tried to re-enter the U.S.. Fortunately, we had no problem (well, except for the one person who was subjected to a random selection to be pulled over for a thorough search) and we celebrated a great trip with a final meal together at the Watertown, NY Cracker Barrel.

Now, to start planning next year's adventure ...

By the way, here's a link to a map showing all our daily tracks.

*Have you ever wondered how we wash dished on these trips with limited clean water? It's a multi-step process, starting with scraping the plates, then rinsing them in unfiltered water, followed by washing them in warm, soapy, filtered water, and finally a rinse in filtered water with a tinny bit of bleach in it to kill off any remaining nasties. I tried to convince the group that my cardiologist had forbidden me from doing any dishes on the trip, but no one fell for it.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Thousand Islands Part 3: Grenadier to Sugar

Monday, 9/11

Monday was going to be one of our long days - a paddle to Boldt Castle. This meant paddling the length of Grenadier Island and then island hopping to the castle on Heart Island, for a total of about fifteen miles round trip. Jen had really wanted to go to Boldt Castle, and I did too. There is family lore about a family vacation visit to Boldt Castle when I was young. As a child I had my share of irrational phobias. As the tale is told, I spent our entire time at Boldt Castle fretting about missing the boat back to the mainland and pleading to go "back to the boat dock" as soon as possible. As it happens, I recently had some old home movies digitized including, as it happens, footage from our trip to the Thousand Islands. In the film I appear to be having a perfectly fine time at the castle. I don't doubt that my fears of getting marooned there were real, but I suspect my insistence on waiting at the dock for the tour boat has been magnified over years of retelling. In any case, I was ready for a confident return to the castle (via my own boat, which was not going to leave without me).

Our trip there was against the current and into the wind, so it was a bit of a slow slog. We detoured a little bit to look at an old lighthouse and we made another stop to check out the campsites at the middle of Grenadier Island. This area of the island is more of a campground - many more sites and more facilities (picnic shelters, bathrooms, etc.). Being a weekday after Labor Day, it was empty. Also, I saw a mink in the wild!

Towards the end of the trip there I started to feel twinges of pain in my chest. Based on the trauma caused by my recent surgery I get a great many weird aches in my chest. The doctors have reassured me that such pain is nothing to worry about - however, pain in my chest could also signal the onset of a heart attack, which is an urgent medical concern. As a result, I freak out whenever chest pain appears and have to convince myself that it's not a heart attack. So, when I started to feel funny I slowed down and after a bit the rest of the group did too. Fortunately, my self-diagnosis of not having a heart attack once again turned out to be correct.
Boldt Castle

 Jen had called ahead to see if there was a place we could land kayaks and had been assured that there was. However, when we got there what we found was a steep ramp which would have been a tough landing even if it hadn't been blocked by a work boat, and a rather high dock. By working together to stabilize the kayaks we were all able to climb up out of the boats onto the dock and then haul up the kayaks. You come ashore into a no-man's land - on the island, but outside the castle perimeter. We paused there to have some lunch.

Landing at Boldt Castle (Rob's pic)

Next, we ran into the biggest challenge of paddling in this area - the fact that an international border runs through it. The rule is that you can cross the border as much as you want on water, but as soon as you set foot on land after crossing the border you have to check in with the appropriate border patrol agency. Heart Island is in the U.S. and there is a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol booth there to log in visitors coming from Canada in accordance with this rule. After finishing lunch we headed for the entry and dutifully logged in with CBP. The CBP officer gave us each a slip of paper with our U.S. entry number and a number to call upon our return to Canada. Suzanne and I, who are the ones to worry about such things, were concerned about what the re-entry check-in into Canada would entail (for example, would they expect us to physically visit an office outside of kayaking range?) so we decided to call the Canadian re-entry phone # right away. The Canadian officer on the other end of the line assured us that we could check in by phone upon our return.

Boldt Castle piano

We had a nice time visiting the castle and grounds. George Boldt made his fortune by pretty much inventing the luxury hotel business just in time for the robber baron era of the 19th century. He was, for example, the proprietor if the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York. In a sense, he was like the Donald Trump of his era, creating properties that catered to the super-wealthy. However, unlike Trump he was a self-made man and no foe of immigrants, having worked his way up from kitchen staff when he was a new immigrant himself to millionaire hotelier. Also unlike The Donald, he didn't trade in his wives every few years. Rather, his wife Louise was his true love and it was for her that he was building the 120 room castle (he even renamed the island from "Hart" to "Heart" and incorporated a heart motif throughout the design as a show of his love for Louise). Tragically, Louise died before the house was completed, at which point George abandoned the whole project. So the castle today is not so much restored (as it was never finished or occupied) as it is an imagining of what it would have been like had it been completed.

At the end of the visit I indulged in a rare treat of ice cream (chest pain be damned - I was hungry and it was hot), then we got underway. For the trip back we had both current and wind helping us, and so, while we spent 3 1/2 hours outbound (including stops), it took us only two hours to get back.

The whole way back we were a little concerned about the customs issue (lots of jokes about how, like Tom Hanks in The Terminal, we were going to be stuck between two countries) and so upon our return to camp our first order of business was to call the Canadian Customs number. Jen called, and the person who answered took her name, asked the typical nonsensical questions ("How long is your kayak?") then - without taking anyone else's names - told her we were all checked in. This didn't sit well with us. We envisioned getting to the U.S. border at the end of our trip, showing up in their system as already having entered days earlier, and being sent to Guantanamo Bay. So, we called again. The person who answered was a little annoyed (since we had just called a minute earlier) and told us that the previous officer had been trying to do us a favor, but since we insisted on doing things by the book what we really needed to do was visit the Canadian Customs office at middle Grenadier. By this time it was around 6 PM. The office was open until 8, but there was no way were were going to get there and back by foot or by kayak, before dark. So, we thanked the latest Customs officer and decided we would take care of it the next morning upon our return to the Canadian mainland. Needless to say, we spent the rest of the evening joking about Canadian Customs SWAT teams swooping down onto the island in black helicopters to take us into custody. In retrospect, September 11th might not have been the best choice of days for cross-border shenanigans.

The bureaucratic headaches did not diminish our appetites. It was Suzanne's turn to make dinner (or maybe it was Jim's - Jim is not much of a cook and Suzanne had volunteered to take over his cooking night on top of doing her own) and we feasted on her tuna with olives pasta dish. It was an early night, as we had an early start planned for the morning. There was a marked warming trend in the weather and after having spent the preceding nights bundled up in my sleeping bag, Monday night I was borderline schvitzing in my tent.

Tuesday, 9/12

Usually on these trips we spread re-positioning over two days. Break camp and paddle back to the cars one day, spend a night ashore getting cleaned up, reprovisioning and repacking, then head out again the next morning. This time, because the distance between our two launch sites was fairly short, we decided to cram it all into one day. We knew it was going to be tight - even without the still to be determined process of checking back in with Customs. We had ascertained from the web that Misty Isles, our second launch point, was on the list of official Canadian check-in points (this turned out to be meaningless, as all they do is call the same phone number we already had) and so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and do our check-in there. To make a long story short, it took us over an hour and another seven or so phone calls to get officially checked in. The Customs agents wouldn't even allow us to pass the phone along from person to person; each of us had to call separately. Each of us got a different set of oddball questions ("Are you transporting any building materials?") and most of us received some degree of attitude from the Customs officers at the other end of the line (it turns out there are surly Canadians!). But eventually we all got "legal". And we provided much amusement for Gail, the (super-nice!) proprietress of Misty Isles.

Once we were done the group split up to take care of whatever else each of us needed to do. It was a mad dash, since we had only a few hours until our agreed-upon launch time for the paddle to our next campsite on Sugar Island. The people who hadn't cooked yet ran to the market to get food. We all refreshed our food and swapped out our dirty clothes for clean ones. I, for one, went in search of a shower. Most of the group had been either bathing in the river or using the solar shower; however, I am too genteel to consider a dip in cold, diesel-slick river water to be a bath and too delicate to subject myself to the tepid water of the solar shower, so my personal bathing on Grenadier had been limited to wipes. The first campground I visited turned me down (boo to the Ivy Lea KOA) but the second let me in, even declining my offer of payment (yay to the Ivy Lea Campground!). I took a luxurious hot shower, shaved, and also took the opportunity to wash out the cooler (we were concerned that the raw chicken had leaked). I bought fresh ice at the campground both because I needed ice and because I wanted to give them some business.

Our ashore time had been so busy that I hadn't had time to eat lunch. While time was getting tight, rather than just eat another of my camping lunches (tuna fish or peanut butter) I zipped back towards Gananoque with the intention of grabbing a quick lunch at the first restaurant I saw, which turned out to be McDonald's, so instead I grabbed a quick lunch at the second restaurant I saw - a chipotle chicken wrap at Tim Horton's. I was the last to arrive back at Misty Isles, but I still had almost an hour before our scheduled launch time and I had no problem packing the boat and being ready on time.

Ready to lunch at Misty Isles

The paddle out to Sugar Island was short and the water was calm and before we knew it our GPS receivers were beeping as we hit the waypoint I had set for the landing beach at Sugar Island. Sugar is a 35 acre private island owned by the American Canoe Association. Camping on the island is one of the perks of ACA memership. The island has minor improvements, including outhouses and really neat camping platforms perched right on the edges of the island. We had reserved two platforms but, since once again we had the place to ourselves (except for a caretaker who was there for the first few days) we wound up taking over five platforms: Jen and Suzanne each grabbed one to camp on, we took the nicest one as our central hangout and kitchen (it even had a kitchen area!), one for the solar shower and another one on which Tom and I hung our laundry. Another group of CPA paddlers had visited Sugar just weeks earlier. These folks for whatever reason like to maximize the amount of "roughing it" they do and so camped over on the rocky, buggy side of the island. Not us! We went for the sweet cushiness of the platforms.

Another luxury on Sugar is potable water. There's a hand pumped well and so we would take our water holders over in the (provided!) wheelbarrow and fill them up with water. Soooo much easier than filtering.

Camping platform on Sugar Island
View on Sugar Island

Our gourmet kitchen

It was Tom's turn to cook dinner - rough duty given all the work we had already put in over the course of the day; however, he was undeterred and prepared a marvelous meal: steaks and foil packets of mixed vegetables (corn, green beans, onions and potatoes) and turkey kielbasa. I've been neglecting to include mention of dessert in my descriptions of the meals, since mostly it was simple stuff like cookies. Tom, though, brought some sort of exotic Serbian dessert. 've already forgotten the name, but it was something he grew up eating - apparently some part of his family has Serbian roots. It was sort of a nut roll, sort of a babka. It was quite delicious! We spent the evening sitting on our "living room" platform staring at the water and the stars and marveling at our incredible good fortune at being in such a lovely place.

Sunset at Sugar Island

Wednesday, 9/13

After two busy days we agreed to a slow start on Wednesday. We started with a leisurely breakfast on the platform, watching an otter swim by and listening to the loons. We spent time on "camp craft". No, not lanyards. I had recently purchased a camping hammock and spent some time figuring out how to hang it up as well as relaxing in it. Rob and Tom set up the solar shower. Suzanne rigged a changing room out of tarps. Rob, Tom and I had all brought solar chargers for our electronics and so we deployed our solar farm (Rob travels with an amazing array of carabiners, bungie cords, spring clamps, and the like for such purposes). We each explored bits and pieces of the island on foot. In the afternoon we got on the water and did a six mile exploration of the Lake Fleet Islands - the local archipelago of which Sugar is a part. Lots of neat houses and scenery.

It was once again Suzanne's turn for dinner and this time she went pre-fab (this one must have been Jim's dinner!): Tastybite Indian Curry pouches with chicken. The curry had dairy in it and so Suzanne was good enough to set aside some for me before mixing in the chicken. I added some nuts and raisins, and had a nice meal of Indian sauce over rice. At this point, it should come as no surprise to readers that we spent the evening staring at the stars and the water. By this point in the trip it was pretty warm - we hadn't felt the need for a campfire (except for cooking) since arriving on Sugar.

Wednesday also marked the six month anniversary of my surgery. I had brought along a bottle of champagne from the U.S. (dutifully declared at the border) and we celebrated my survival and recovery with a champagne toast. It was very meaningful to me.

Toasting my heatlh!

Jen invited herself to stay over at my place, which was rather forward of her. Not to worry! She just wanted to try sleeping in my hammock. I slept in my tent; she spent the night in my "guest room".