Saturday, July 15, 2017

Pohick Bay Sort of Training Paddle

One of my real talents is my ability to drive myself crazy. No matter what I’m doing, I always think I should be doing something else, or should finish up what I’m doing so I can move on to the next thing. I do not by nature live “in the moment”. In that spirit, I awoke Sunday with a conundrum – bicycling or kayaking? I knew that I wanted to get some exercise – I need to keep building my conditioning back up. I really want to become a better cyclist. But, I have a week-long kayak camping trip coming up in September and I really, really, have to get in shape for that. I know that I am capable of feel that whichever I chose, I could make myself miserable for not having chosen the other. But the need to get into kayaking shape won out. Kayaking it was.

Having finished agonizing over my choice of activity, I next moved on to agonizing over location. I wanted to launch somewhere other than my usual Columbia Island location. I thought about Fletcher’s Cove – close to home, free, and a pretty section of the river; however, it would be a lonely solo trip. There was also Pohick Bay farther downriver. A couple of nights earlier, when I had run into some of my Westover friends at Wolf Trap, they had said they were going to do a paddleboarding/kayaking outing down at Pohick Sunday morning and encouraged me to join them. Now, at the time they told me this they were pretty intoxicated and I know that wasted people say a lot of stuff they don’t necessarily mean (or even remember the next day), but there was some possibility they were going to be at Pohick. While I wanted to get in some miles and they were doubtless just going to knock around, at least if they were there it would add some little bit of socialization to my outing. Pohick it was.

The Pohick Bay web site is ambiguous about the park’s opening time. It says the park is open dawn to dusk, but that the gatehouse doesn’t open until 10 AM (which is when the Westover crew planned to get there). I arrived a little before ten to find the place already open – the woman at the gatehouse said they open at 7 AM in the summer, though some of the amenities (like boat rental) don’t open until 10. It’s good to know for future reference that early launching is possible there.

Pohick has a “small craft” launch separate from the main concrete boat ramp, so kayakers, paddleboarders and such don’t have to mix with people launching motorboats off of trailers. Plus, you can drive right up to the launch, which is nice. This was actually another factor in my decision to go to Pohick. I’m just getting back to being able to carry my boat unassisted and so I preferred the short carry at Pohick to the very long carry at Fletcher’s. Unfortunately, unlike many other places, at Pohick “small craft” includes jet skis. I’m never happy about having to share what I think should be strictly a “car-top” (or people-powered boat) launch with people trailering jet skis into the water. Thus, I have to admit to a little schadenfreude at watching a van get stuck and have trouble getting back up off the sand and onto the pavement after dropping off a jet ski. The four young guys who had arrived in the van – Eastern Europeans of some sort, based on the sound of their language – huffed and puffed pushed and pushed and eventually got the thing unstuck. Then they had a similar amount of trouble getting their ancient jet ski started. During this time they were joined by a fifth friend, who arrived in a de-badged VW Passat with Audi wheels. You’re not fooling anyone with that FAuxdi, buddy.

I also saw a guy launch a small rowboat/johnboat with an outboard motor at the small craft launch. Launching a motorized boat there was a new one on me. He too had trouble getting the engine started and so I got another little opportunity to smirk over a power-boater’s troubles. And in yet another first, later on while I was out on the water several people on horseback rode down into the launch area and let their horses cool off a little in the water. Where had they come from?

At the launch I unexpectedly bumped into two kayaking friends, Jack and Marti. Jack was a regular paddler at Georgetown years ago, but for various health and personal reasons has drifted in and out of paddling over the years. Like me, he was there to get out on the water and rebuild from an injury – in his case, shoulder surgery (been there, done that).

Having had my fun watching the bumbling jet skiers, I launched and headed towards the boat rental area – and immediately saw familiar faces. There was Christine, in the water and clinging for dear life to a paddleboard. There was Dee, doing much better on a paddleboard. And Matt M., and some other folks I didn’t know. I had Christine grab the stern of my boat and I towed her back to shore, where she switched to a sit-on-top kayak (a much better idea for her).

I did wind up hanging around with them for a bit, stealing Cyndi’s old trick and literally paddling circles around them as they slowly made their way up into the bay. After a little bit, though, I bid them adieu and set out for my real paddle. I headed back out toward the mouth of the bay. Let me tell you, they’ve been building some pretty impressive houses along that section of the shoreline. Holy cow. I paddled along filled with house envy. In between ogling at houses I kept a lookout for the waterski boat which was plying the same waters. Back and forth, back and forth -  every time they went by I had to deal with their noise and then their wake.


 After a bit I turned back around again towards the launch. By the time I got back the Westover crowd was gone. I had a pretty strong suspicion, which turned out to have been accurate, that they had stopped at a nearby micro-brewery after getting off the water. I thought about checking the place out to see if they were there, but decided instead to head for home. I wound up paddling about 7.5 miles. I really need to get up over 10 miles and feel I could have done so, but I’m still not 100% comfortable paddling solo and so didn’t want to push it. My ten mile paddle will have to wait until I’m on my “home” section of the Potomac, where I’m more comfortable, or to when I’m with someone else, or both.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Fourth and Fifth

I have written previously about the morning "coffee clubs" sponsored by BikeArlington. These weekday get-togethers are part of what fosters such an active cyclist community in Arlington. I started attending them during Freezing Saddles 2016. During the wintertime they are attended only by hardcore cyclists, mainly Freezing Saddles participants. Who else is going to get up extra early just to go riding to coffee in the cold, dark pre-dawn hours? But the warm weather is another story - bigger crowds, early sunrises so no need to ride in the dark, languid breakfasts outdoors, and supreme difficulty in tearing oneself away to actually go to work.

This past Tuesday was Independence Day. The coffee clubs are mainly populated with bike commuters, and since most people weren't going to be commuting on the holiday, I wasn't sure if the Tuesday coffee club would even be held. But, I needed a destination for my morning ride and so I pointed my bike towards Crystal City. As it turns out, a nice crowd showed up - about ten people, at peak.


Crystal City Coffee Club Crowd

I don't think anyone was actually on their way to work, though a few of us marveled at how busy our work had been the days before, a Monday stranded between the weekend and the holiday. Some folks were stopping there on their way to do longer rides. Others were like me - just there to socialize and get a bit of a ride in before we started our real plans for the day.

I mentioned that I was thinking of biking to Wolf Trap the following night and got good advice on the best route to take. When I revealed that I was actually planning to drive from Frederick (where I'd be for work), park my car in Vienna and ride just the last few miles so I could avoid the after-show traffic jam, FFG Dave (center in the picture above) dubbed that approach the "bike dinghy" - moor the yacht in the harbor, then use the dinghy to get to shore.

I followed through and indeed bike dinghy-ied. I parked right by the town green in Vienna and walked over to Whole Foods for a quick snack and to use their bathroom to change from work to cycling clothes (BTW, the slice of pizza I had there was SO BAD that I am taking a mulligan on my monthly pizza ration). When I took my bike out of the car I discovered that somehow my rear view mirror had cracked - maybe I banging it with the tailgate. I don't much believe in superstition and I'm pretty sure I'm already in the midst of a string of bad luck - so maybe breaking the mirror will flip the bit and give me seven years of *good* luck.

The ride to Wolf Trap was easy. I still carry with me the paranoia of the unsafe New York City of my youth (the era of movies like Death Wish and The Taking of Pelham 123) and so I took note that the section of the W&OD I was riding was isolated and unlit - was going to be creepy later. As a a result, true to form, throughout the show I had a background process of worrying running in my brain out of concern for what the ride home was going to be like.

Other than building a reserve of paranoia, I made it to Wolf Trap with no issues and a ranger pointed me to the bike rack. A woman seated on the bench adjacent to the rack expressed that she was impressed that I had ridden - which I ate up. I hiked up the hill to where I had managed to wangle an invitation to a tent hosted by Devil's Backbone Brewery - free beer! I had a tasty double IPA, but in terms of food restricted myself to vegetables to make up for having indulged in pizza back in Vienna (have I mentioned how bad that pizza was?). At DBB tent I bumped into Rob K, who I had met at Neil's party, phenomenal singer Mary El, who has performed with me in Magnolia Blue , and - as I was leaving - the drummer from Magnolia Blue, plus I met up there with Bill Y who at the last minute had stepped up to use my second ticket (after Shawn C. got stuck in Charlottesville and couldn't make it to Wolf Trap in time).

As showtime approached I wandered through the gates. Over the course of the evening I ran into Neil (from Magnolia Blue), Lexi, Bob A., Jeff McL., Dee, Rick & Cheryl, the woman with the dreads who always wears a fedora (she's part of the Magnolia Blue crowd), Jennifer M. (another member of that crowd - I've met her but remember her name only because of Facebook) and more. Running into so many people was a neat vibe - like being at a big party.

The show was great: Hot Tuna, The Wood Brothers, Tedeschi-Trucks Band - but this blog isn't about music so I won't dwell on that aspect of things. I will, however mention that TTB was playing with a substitute keyboard player because their regular guy had just had emergency heart surgery! A familiar story. Maybe schlepping all those heavy Fender Rhodes and Hammond B3 keyboards back in the day strained our hearts. 
Tedeschi-Trucks Band
I cut out a little early. Counterproductive - I had arranged the perfect way to get through the post-show crowds, then I left early to avoid them anyway because I was concerned about riding my bike on the roads with all the people pouring out of the show. Speaking of pouring, it rained pretty hard during parts of the evening. Fortunately, I had pavilion seats so I had stayed nice and dry. It was still drizzling when I hit the road - but I had brought my rain jacket so I was fine, except for getting my butt wet on the soaked bike seat.
Passing The Barns


The ride back turned out to be straightforward - no need to have worried. I took Beulah Road all the way down into Vienna in order to avoid the creepy, dark trail. Tossed the bike into the back of the car, and off I went! It's good to know how easy it is to get to Wolf Trap by bike, and so next time I'll be more at ease with the ride (particularly if I go with others).

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Oh, and for no reason at all, here's a picture I took on Sunday to show off my new Ironheart Foundation jersey. I don't usually wear cute little jerseys when I ride, but I decided to buy this one to support Ironheart, an organization that supports athletes with cardiac diseases (ahem).



Sunday, July 2, 2017

Certain of One Thing

I paddled out of Riley's Lock with Tall Tom today. I was running two GPS's - my Apple Watch and my venerable Garmin, the former of which is proving to be unreliable on the water and the latter of which is long known to give unreliable distance readings. Here's the tally of the distance of our paddle:

1. The Apple Watch went completely dark at some point during the trip. I was able to reboot it when we got back. At the end of the trip it read 2.1 miles.

2. When synched to Strava online the data from the watch still read 2.1 miles, but when I exported a .gpx file and then re-imported it (conceptually this should yield an identical result), Strava indicated a distance of 4.2 miles - but it still had only part of the track.

3. The Garmin's display read 8.74 miles.

4. I connected the Garmin to the computer, downloaded the track to Garmin Mapsource, exported a .gpx and then imported it into Strava. That showed the whole track, and read 8.3 miles. This is close to what Tom's GPS read, and I believe it is correct.

One thing I know for certain, it was a beautiful day for a paddle.

At the entrance to Seneca Creek (Riley's Lock)

I arrived early. I usually get a slow start in the morning, eating breakfast , reading the paper, stretching and such until I realize I should have left five minutes ago at which point I rush around getting ready. Since my planned departure time always contains sufficient slack I almost always still arrive on time, but even with lots of lead time I always wind up stressing myself out getting out the door. I have vowed to change that and today I left home with plenty of time - I actually arrived before Tom, who is usually early.

I unloaded my kayak, disturbing two buzzards who had been snacking on a catfish carcass by the boat ramp. As I got geared up a whole gaggle of cyclists drove in, apparently meeting for a group road ride. Have I mentioned that cyclists bug me? [See Note 1] They all had their super-expensive road bikes and of course were duded up in little cycling outfits. Worst of all, these guys were about my age but still had way too much of a "bro" attitude, ragging on each other and exuding way too much machismo. I resisted the urge to whack them with my paddle, for which I deserve some sort of medal.

Next, Mike A., Randi, Rob St.L., and Heather (kayakers) rolled in. They were there to do some sort of rough water training and were headed downriver - towards the falls (it's been nice knowing you!).

Tom and I headed upriver. As already mentioned, we covered a little over eight miles (I think), my longest paddle since my return to the water. Our trip included a stop to scope out one of the campsites along the C&O Canal. The campsites are labelled "Hiker / Biker" sites and are clearly intended for users of the C&O towpath (hikers and bikers, that is), but we wanted to see whether they could be accessed from the water. This one was - assuming one doesn't mind scrambling up the poison ivy-covered bank.


Note 1: Actually, just about everyone bugs me.