Thursday, September 10, 2020

The ocean, the road, and the trail

 The other day as I was slogging up one of the many hills around my house on my road bike I began pondering why I do this to myself.... I like road biking despite the monotony and the pain, but why?

My default thought pattern in these deep philosophical moments is to try to relate my question to kayaking.

I like road biking because it is like kayaking - long stretches of time time where your body is doing mostly monotonous motions without really thinking too much about it.

But that is not really true. There is plenty of thinking and presence that goes into kayaking. One must always be scanning the ocean, feeling the water move, and being ready for surprises.

For the most part road biking is pretty thoughtless. Sure you need to adjust for hills and watch out for pot holes. However, shifting becomes pretty automatic and the roads I ride are pretty good. It is really just time for zoning out while legs spin.

Then I thought kayaking was more like mountain biking. You are always reacting to the terrain; always thinking and adjusting.

But that is also not really true either. Kayaking is not quite as white knuckled as mountain biking. There is a lot more flow and space to breath.

As I crested the hill, my lungs heaving and my legs burning (I may not have shifted as smartly as I could have), I gave up trying to figure it all out.

Kayaking is the perfect combination of zen and adrenaline; you have space to breath and just feel the motion of the paddle through the water and the thrills of waves and constantly changing conditions.

Road biking gives me the zen without the adrenaline. It is all space to think and feel the burn of spinning the peddles.

Mountain biking gives me the rush and active body thinking. It is all about being aware, reacting, and feeling the bike move.

I'll take the kayak over the bikes every time, but options are always good - particularly since COVID has limited my access to the ocean but not the roads or the trails.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

One More Camping Trip

 H decided that we needed at least one more "real" vacation this summer. For H, a "real" vacation involves not being at our house. I on the other hand am perfectly happy. during a pandemic, to consider anytime I do not have to work for an extended period of time a "real" vacation. Leaving the safety of our neighborhood for an extended period of time to stay in the vicinity of a bunch of strangers who could possibly pass along a deadly pathogen just by breathing near you is not my idea of a "real" vacation.

Knowing that both H and K needed some time away from home doing something that seemed reasonably close to normal, I put aside my crazy as best I could and went along for the ride....

This particular trip was to Salisbury State Reservation and involved camping with some close friends who have a child around K's age. Both facts raised my anxiety since I rememberer Salisbury as a place of rampant partying and I knew that we were going to be eating with other people and that K would be playing, unsupervised, with another 10 year old. I had to keep my rational brain firmly in the driver's seat on this one. Our friends have been following good safety procedures all spring and summer; we were going to be outside the whole time, and K is pretty good about remembering her mask and keeping physical distance. We were not doing anything high risk.

One of the hardest things, for me, about this whole COVID thing is that it makes me question everything I do that involves other people. I have never been a huge fan of crowds and was always slightly suspicious of most other people. Now I just see everyone, even people I like, as possible threats. It is not that I worry about anyone being malicious or stupid or anything other than just plain human. I know that they could be sick and contagious without even knowing it. I, despite my neurotic avoidance of other people and any place that is not super low risk, could be patient zero.

Anyway, the forecast for the trip was pretty bleak. There was a chance of thunderstorms or rain the entire time we were scheduled to be camping. The forecast was not enough to dissuade the ladies - well not H. I think K was kept in the dark about the weather until it was too late for her to complain.

We, of course, got a late start. Partly it was me dragging my feat and partly it was H doing twenty things at once and K being ten. We did get to the campsite in time to get our tent and the screen tent secured before it started raining the first time....

We spent a good 30-40 minutes sitting in the car as is poured rain and occasionally boomed. We did take a drive around the camp area so I could keep the AC going. I was not going to sit in a hot, humid truck...

During the storm our friends developed a puddle under their tent which was seeping through the floor. It was trapped between their ground cover and the tent floor... Once the rain stopped, we surveyed our tent to discover a similar situation. While the ladies made dinner and the kids cruised about the camp ground, the men dug out trenches to redirect water away from the tents and to make sure there were not any spots where puddles would form. Fortunately their was cider to be drank...

I want to say food prep was being done to my safety standards, but I cannot control everything... Mask were mostly worn during cooking and definitely during serving. Nobody shared utensils or plates. Some people shared apps, but that was just a step outside my comfort zone. I did my best to keep 6' away from everyone without looking antisocial....

Then it started pouring again.... So, it was back to the trucks for another stretch. This time we drove over to the boat launch where we could see the lightning across the shore. The second set of showers were shorted and we let the kids get out and run around in parking lot before dragging them off to bed.

K wanted to sleep in the car because it might thunder again. She was totally freaked about getting hit by lightning. In fact, she wasn't even sure the car was safe enough.... I cannot say I wasn't considering the sleeping in the car thing myself - it would make the eventual run to the truck easier....

We made it through the night without any more thunder. It may have rained, but we were all too tired to care.

The forecast for the second day had changed for the better. It looked like it would be mostly sunny until thunder showers moved in around dinner time.... H was lucky the forecast changed because if it was going to be more rain, I was taking my toys home.... I was working very hard to keep things together and another day of making sprints to the truck was just not going to happen without me melting down like one of the ten year olds...

Not that the plan for the day was anything to write home about. We were planning on spending the day sitting on the beach... with signs posted warning against strong rip currents.

We showed the kids the eddy line near the rocks and told them to stay away. We watched as two rescue boats on the far shore dragged a couple of kids out of the currents. Then we settled into an anxious routine of chatting and checking on the kids. We had to make sure they were not drowning or getting too close to other people.

It was not a bad day. I was outside near the water chatting with friends. (I was a little sad that I did not have my kayak because the currents were ripe for playing...) The kids enjoyed themselves digging in the sand and frolicking in the water. I could almost forget that there was a risk of death lurking about in the air.

When we heard the thunder rolling in, we quickly packed up and headed back to our camp sites to begin sheltering in the cars...

Fortunately, nothing much materialized and we were able to enjoy a nice dinner and a campfire with friends. Enjoy in this case is sort of a loaded word since I was anxious about people keeping proper distance since masks are impossible when eating and drinking. A non-small number of ciders did help moderate my anxiety in the moment.

I do know that my anxiety is not rational. My rational brain, and the facts on the ground, all point to our activities being extremely low risk. We were with people we know and trust and we were outdoors. None of us have any conditions that put us at high risk for complications.

Rationality does not always win....

On the last morning I was a model of packing efficiency. I think I had the entire site down and in the truck in just around an hour.

The kids were off scouring the campground looking for painted rocks and climbing trees. They had masks on when they left and convinced myself that they would just keep them on... The park actually had painted rocks scattered around the area for kids to find and post photos with. It was the idea. We made the kids wear masks in the photos.

I just focused on getting structures down and packed into the truck. It was the nicest weather of the three days we had. There was a slight breeze and sunny skies - and a looming threat of rain that was far away. I was on a mission to get back to my safety bubble and begin my 14 day countdown....

After a quick stop at the beach to see the ocean one more time and have K suffer a post vacation, hanger meltdown... and some greasy fried seafood and ice cream which cured the meltdown.

K and H got their annual lobster - at sale price.

Both the seafood place and the ice cream place had excellent distancing protocols in place, well spaced outdoor seating and full mask compliance. I actually felt reasonably OK about eating there.

The trip was relaxing-ish. The girls enjoyed getting out of the house and seeing some friends and having a somewhat normal couple of days. Their mental health definitely improved.

I had moments of relaxation that were tainted by crushing anxiety. It was nice to see friends and do some normalish things for a change. But there was always the voice in my head....

I cannot wait for science to make this pandemic thing at least more known and manageable.

I would wish for my anxiety to magically go away, but that is like wishing oneself away.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Good Friends and the Ocean

The most excellent TM read one of my blog posts about not getting on the ocean and decided to sacrifice a day of his vacation to make sure I got at least one ocean paddle in this season.

Most of my reasons for not getting out on the ocean have been more about my being neurotic about the COVID. I avoid groups and getting close to people outside of my direct family at all costs. While I do go out for bike rides, those are solo excursions that pose relatively low risk of major injury. I can also wear a mask the whole time.

Sea kayaking is not something I do solo except on very rare occasions. The ocean can be a harsh mistress. I don't really think staying masked the whole time is possible given that there is going to be spray and your face just gets wet. I also worry that in the case of rescues there is no way to keep distance and a high probability of someone inadvertently blowing a bunch of droplets in your face.

Rationally, I know that being outside, in the sun, with an ocean breeze in a 16' kayak with a paddle that requires a good 4' radius is something even the most conservative epidemiologist would consider minimal risk. I also know that the chances of needing to do a rescue with most of the people I paddle with is pretty slim. We are all pretty good.

Rational doesn't always win out in these decisions though.....

To help get me out on the water Tim set aside a day of his vacation to paddle with just me. He figured, correctly, that paddling with just one other person, who I completely trust, would be on the edge of my comfort zone. I still had some anxiety about the long drive and what about my coffee for the return trip or bathroom breaks. What if the ramp was busy.... What if the conditions were more than I was ready to handle.... What if....

The afternoon before, I dawdled in packing up. Anxiety still gnawed at my enthusiasm. As I packed up, I developed a plan to alleviate some of my anxiety. I would pack an extra iced coffee, extra water, and extra snacks in a cooler to eliminate the need stop on the way home. I considered brining our portable loo to ensure I could stay entirely self contained while transiting, but decided that was too much and I didn't want to have to deal with waste disposal.

H did poke a little fun at my plans. She has been enjoying Starbucks cold brew all summer and thinks avoiding the largely contactless is a little crazy. She isn't entirely wrong... However, I have learned to do without over the shutdown. Why spend on Starbucks when our home made coffee is just as good?

Once I finally got to Weatherill, I started to relax. I was still a little skittish and very conscious about staying masked up. However, TM's jovial presence and the ocean smell instantly lowered my anxiety level. We packed up our kayaks and carried them down to the water wearing masks which was odd. TM took his off before launching, but I needed to be well off shore before taking mine off. Knowing that ocean paddling with a mask on was not only a little crazy but likely dangerous, I had prepared ahead to safely store my mask on the water. I brought a zip lock bag and stored it in the little cockpit hatch; it was safe, dry, and close by if needed.

It didn't take long for being on the water to work its magic. I mostly forgot that our country is burning around us between the pandemic and the racial tension boiling over across the country. The flow of the paddle through the water, the salty smell of the air, and the gentle rocking of the waves are better than any drug.

We didn't do anything super exciting. We paddled from Weatherill, around Beavertail and then north along the Jamestown coast. The conditions were super mellow. I needed to pay attention, but not too much. It was perfect.

We lunched at one of the little pocket beaches which was surprisingly relaxing. I was barely bothered about not being masked. We were outside and there was a nice breeze. I didn't even freak out when a group of people showed up on the hill asking if we were finishing up... We were.

As we ate, we watched rain storms march steadily towards us from Narragansett and heard a few rumbles. It was nothing to worry about, but definitely time to start planning our exit.

It looked like things might be clearing up when we got back to Weatherill, so I decided to stay in the kayak and play a bit. I was going to try rolling, but the water was a little low as was my confidence... Instead I practiced my reverse figure eights. I did OK. There was a wind that kept pushing me around a little and making some of the turns hard. It was good practice on switching edges, remembering paddle placement, and just general boat feel.

This was also the first time I had my new paddle in salt water, so I was excited to see what it would do. As expected from the previous fresh water outings, it was awesome. I felt very confident with it. I had plenty of forward power and felt secure with the bracing. My less than ergonomic home office set up has not done wonders for my wrists, and they were a little sore. I'm certain, however, that they were less sore than they would have been after dragging a giant lollipop through the water...

The clear skies didn't last long. As we were loading the boats on the cars it started to rain and before I could finish up it was pouring. Fortunately, I had not changed into dry clothes before loading the boat.

When Tim asked about stopping for coffee, I was so chill from the paddling that I almost said yes. The rain, sadly, made it impossible. I'm still not ready to sit inside a coffee shop and I did have an ice cold coffee sitting in the back of my truck along with my extra water and snacks.

The rain did help me appreciate our monster Subaru just a little bit more. It is big enough to comfortably change clothes in the back. I just pulled up the privacy shades, slipped out of my wet clothes, toweled off, and slipped on my dry clothes. It was luxurious to change in a large dry space, grab my driving goodies, then slip into the driver's seat.

This was possibly the best day of 2020 so far....

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Camping in a Pandemic

 H needed a change of scenery and was not willing to completely give up on summer vacations, so she scheduled us for a camping trip in New Hampshire. It was one of the few states that didn't have strict 14 day quarantine policies to enter. It also was on the list of states that would not force us to quarantine for 14 days upon return. We were not going to spend 4 weeks locked up in our house for 4 nights sleeping on the ground. I need my daily walk or bike ride. H needs to get out for an occasional curbside pick-up. Bug needs to go to gymnastics.

I was not really comfortable spending any time in a crowded campground or staying anywhere other than my comfy COVID free bedroom. Sure outside is safer than inside and keeping space from other humans is pretty easy when camping, I just was not really prepared to spend time surrounded by strangers.

When we got the to the site, I stayed masked the entire time I was setting up camp and monitoring our neighbors for any signs of wandering over or coughing.... I think the girls were laughing at me.

Once dinner rolled around I did take the mask off. I began to feel pretty confident that our site was isolated enough that no COVID was going to waft our way. I wasn't entirely relaxed.

The next day, I spent most of the day at the site or biking. I did ride up the to pool with Kenzie. The other people were doing the right things and keeping good space. Of course none of them were wearing masks. I vacated as soon as H showed up and went off in search of the kayak launch.

The second day was kayak day. Danforth Bay is fresh water, fairly flat, but there was plenty of space to cover. The weather was also in my favor. It was warm, but not too sunny with a nice breeze.

The most nerve wracking part of the trip was putting in and taking out. The ramp was small and people kept traipsing through the launch area to get from the beach to the fishing spot. Of course there was not a mask in site - except mine.

Once on the water, I felt much more comfortable. I kept my mask on mostly because I wasn't sure what else to do with it. The paddling was more about relaxation and distance than adrenaline. I worked on my forward stroke and practiced some basic boat handling skills.

I also stared in awe at all the party boats overflowing with unmasked people and the huge houses full of unmasked people. There was even a full summer camp with what looked like a 100 kids all marching around and playing games with no masks. It felt like I had left 2020 for 2019. Either that or people just were ignoring the public health crisis unfolding around them.

Regardless I stayed well off shore and avoided any and all boats that wandered into my path. I figured between the distance, the sun, the breeze, and my mask I was safe.

Even with the slight stress of COVID I was able to enjoy a few hours out on the water. It wasn't sea kayaking, but it was kayaking.

Of course when I got back Bug wanted to hang at the beach and H had spent all day watching her already...

There were only two or three other parties at the beach and they were staying mostly separate. The problem was that they were big groups, with adults enjoying adult beverages, kids wandering about, and zero masks. It was uncomfortable, but I managed to find a low traffic area. Bug wanted me closer to the water, but was willing to take what she got.

One group was by far the most interesting. There were eight adults and ten kids under the age of 8. All of the adults were drinking freely and the kids were everywhere. The adult conversation was mostly about how hard it was to keep the kids from playing too close to their friends and why teachers should stop being babies and get back to doing their jobs....

I was happy to call it quits and get back to our site when dinner was ready.

Packing up was easy and the most pleasant camp breakdown ever. I was more than ready to leave and return to my safe little bubble. H and K enjoyed the getting out of the house for a few days, so it was worth the stress. I also enjoyed not staring at the same four walls, but am not sure that it was worth it for me.

I am privileged enough to live in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood with wide streets that are pleasant to walk. I have easy access to plenty of great biking and several decent, not crowded, fresh water launches. In other words, I have all the recreation I need close to home in environments I have a lot of control over. For right now, that seems pretty vacation-like for me.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Hitting the Trails

 I had a rough day and the road bike was being repaired. I broke a spoke and was waiting for a neighborhood repair guy to get it patched up. He was only running about a week for minor jobs while the bike shops were taking up to two weeks....

Anyway, I needed to get out. I had been avoiding the mountain bike for several reasons including the fact that most of the trails near my house are pretty narrow single track and my knack for getting hurt when I ride. I am also out of practice which makes me more prone to doing stupid things.

I had no choice but to take my chances. It was a coolish night and I waited until dinner time figuring the trails would be mostly empty. I was mostly right.

I masked up and made sure I had my orange lenses on. They don't fog up quite as much for some reason and killing myself on an obstacle I didn't see seemed dumber than killing my killing myself on an obstacle I saw and still tried....

The first part of the trails near my house are a 1/4 mile road ride away, so I figured I make use of my front fork lock and give myself a bit of a break before taking on the trails.

The first section of trails is fairly rugged single track that starts off with a steep hill. I always try and never succeed in climbing it. I either get scared that I'm going to flip backwards or my rear tire spins out. From the top of the hill, there is a steep narrow run along a ridge that ends in a sharp turn. I was feeling tense the entire ride and reconsidering the wisdom of my choice. I could surely blow off some steam with a nice little walk around the hood...

The bike felt extra poundy and reactive which I chalked up to nerves and lack of saddle time.

Once off the ridge the trail winds through some thick woods, across a short, narrow bridge, and into a rocky area. The bridge was nerve wracking. I had to force myself to look across the bridge and not at it. All I could imagine was missing the mark by a fraction, hitting the handle bars and ending up in a pile.

Once over the bridge the rest of the section was fairly easy. There were plenty of rocks and the front end was jumping all over the place. The trail was reasonably wide and nothing looked like it would cause too much damage if I went down...

After about a mile until the first rider passed me. I was at a rode crossing and we both were wearing masks and keeping space. He even called out to alert me to his approach. It was all very pleasant and confidence inspiring.

After the road crossing, the trail stays pretty narrow and winds through the woods and up a hill before another road crossing. This section is nice because it is not too technical. There are some roots, but nothing big. The only tricky parts are knowing which turn takes you to the road instead of the dead end and a small rock wall. The rock wall is your sign that you took the correct turn. I mostly cruised through this section. The hill took its toll on my legs and the rock wall wasn't pretty, but I felt good.

After the second road crossing, the trail is super smooth. I winds through a nice marshy area covered by a wide bridge and ends up in a forested area with some minor obstacles. There is one particularly narrow twist between three trees with a ton of roots. I nearly bought it because the front tire was bouncing all over the place. I managed to keep the bike on the right line.

Once I crossed the third road, I started running into people. The first part of this section of trails is a wide fire road that is very popular with walkers, runners, ect. The first group of people I saw was easy to avoid. They were just beyond a side trail that I was not planning on taking because it is reasonably technical. However, my fear of people outweighed my fear of injuring myself on the bike, so I took the side trail.

The side trail was not as rough as I remembered, but it wasn't a fire road. There were plenty of roots, rocks, and sharp turns.

When I popped back onto the fire road, I noticed that there was still a group of walkers just up a head of where I wanted to go, so I took another side trail that shoots along a small ridge line. Other than that it has steep drops on each side of the trail, it is smooth and straight. I was able to cruise and was certain I would pop back out ahead of the walkers.

I was right about the walkers; they were definitely behind me when I got back onto the fire road. However, right in my path were two fat, white, middle age guys riding full suspension e-bikes. Of course they weren't masked and were riding side by side taking up the entire trail.

WTF. I'm all for people of all shapes and sizes getting some exercise. I don't even really have too many issues with e-bikes (although I'm not sold on the need for full suspension ones) because they do get more people biking. I do have problems with a couple of over privileged idiots ignoring both public health guidelines and basic trail etiquette.

They didn't move into a single file line so we could both use the trail. I had to pull off to the side and watch them silently cruise by under full e-power.

The rest of the ride was pure cruising. The trails were wide and groomed all the way to where I popped out of the woods. I did, briefly, consider the water tower trail as a I cruised past but wasn't in the mood to push my luck. The bike had been jittery the whole ride and the cut backs and incline felt like a step too far.

Once out of the woods, I had a mile ride back home on the streets that includes a big hill. To make the ride easier, I decided to lock out the front fork. When my thumb reached for the button, it couldn't push it in. I checked what was going on figuring that I had snapped the cable or something. Nope - the fork had been locked out for my entire ride....

I felt silly but also a little bit better about how much trouble I was having riding the rougher sections of trails.

The ride home was an uphill slog. The hill is long and steep. It is perfect for getting the thighs burning and the great pumping.

Aside from the idiot pair, I was really impressed with how much care my fellow trail mates were taking to keep COVID at bay. It was nice to get on the trails in a way that felt safe and did wonders for my mental health. Now I feel like I have one more outlet.