Sunday, December 15, 2019

Kalleq on the Pond

I needed a new paddle after the Gales, I needed to replace my primary paddle. I love my Lendal, but it is definitely a backup. I've been using sticks far too long to go back to lollipops.
My Brink paddles have been excellent. He is a master craftsman and makes a mean paddle. They are strong and precise in the water. They feel good in the hand and they look good.

Still, I have broken three of them.
I still have a demo model Cricket stick that is 15 years old and I use specifically when going to do ugly paddling that is still in one piece. It is too long nor is it as precise or smooth in the water - but it is tough. Sadly, Cricket only made one of these as a test and does not sell them.
I looked at other sites that make Aleutian paddles or Greenland paddles, but none of them really caught my attention. Few of them sold a split paddle either. A solid paddle is sturdier, but they are a bitch to transport.
I considered finishing the laminated paddle I started years ago, or just making a solid paddle. It would only take a few hours. However, none of the paddles I made ever felt very good or lasted very long.... I am a kayaker, not a woodworker. There is a half finished playhouse in my backyard to attest to my construction skills.
During my search, I thought the unthinkable. What about carbon fiber? I knew that there were companies that made CF traditional paddles. After a bunch of research I settled on GearLab. They have a good reputation and while they don’t make an Aleutian paddle, they offered a wider bladed surf paddle that looked like a good fit for me.
Then I saw that they were introducing a brand new paddle that was designed to hit the sweet spot between power and efficiency. It was $100 more than their other paddles and it is rare that any design actually finds the sweet spot. Like kayak designs, paddle designs are usually master of one or master of none. Jack of all trade designs usually suck equally at everything rather than shine at anything.
I pondered for a long time. The Aries is a play boat at heart, so the wider power optimized paddle would be a better fit. However, the Aries is amazingly also good on long open water paddles, so maybe taking a chance on the new paddle made more sense....
After looking at the specs and the paddle profiles and reading any review I could find, I decided on the new Kalleq paddle. It is only marginally narrower than the surf paddle, but comes in a wider range of lengths. The surf paddle only comes in 200 and 210. Given the width of the Aries and my height, I really need a 215. That is the length of my broken stick.
Now I had another decision to make... The Kalleq is only available in 210, 220, or 230. There is no in between sizing... Do I go long or short? If I go short do I go with the less expensive surf paddle to save money? Over the course of a week I drove H to drink measuring and remeasuring my broken paddle, my arm span, my Cricket paddle,  and my Lendal paddle, then checking the specs on the Aries and then comparing those numbers to any paddle sizing guide I could find. The first thing to know is that there really is no definitive guide to how to size a traditional paddle. Most experts boil sizing down to find what feels good which is easy enough to do when you are carving the paddles out of $20 two-by-fours. When you are dropping a few 100 dollars it helps to be sure. Based on the GearLab chart, I was comfortably in the 220 range. I still felt like I should go shorter rather than longer....
In the end I ordered a 210 Kalleq and waited.
After 10 days, my paddle showed up. It was pretty and felt super solid. However, it was a 220...
H talked me out of immediately calling to return it. What harm would giving it spin cause? If I didn’t like it, I could return it then. One paddle wasn’t going to damage it.... She makes such good sense.
That weekend, I, and the rest of the family, went over to Walden pond to give the paddle a try. H and K planned on staying huddled in the bus, but H couldn’t let me be on the water in cold weather without someone to watch over me. It didn’t matter that the watcher couldn’t see the water and would be busy entertaining a 9 year old...
The paddle was nearly perfect. The nearly is just because I need more time with the paddle to really acclimate myself to it. The paddle is more sensitive to small adjustments than my older paddles.
The blades provide a strong pull on the water while remaining some of the same flex of a wooden paddle.
The sharp edges slice through the water. That is one of the things to which I need to adjust. My other sticks are butter knifes compared to this thing.
I could get more power out of the blade than I can with my other sticks when I need.
The extra length, on balance, is a good thing. The shorter paddle would force me into either a very vertical stroke which over a long day would get tiring or force me to hit my knuckles on the deck all of the time.
I cannot wait to get more time on the water with this paddle. I know that after one or two paddles me and my Kalleq will be mighty.

Friday, November 01, 2019

The Gales Claim a Mighty Stick

I love Greg Paquin's Autumn Gales event. He brings in some great coaches and provides a great forum for allowing paddlers to push themselves in conditions. I always try to do one day of three day event. (I love the kid dearly, but she makes it hard to spend three days paddling....)
Being in November, the weather is always interesting. Most years the winds are blowing or the rain is coming down. This year we had the remnants of a hurricane blowing in and I wasn't even sure there would be paddling on my day... Not that a little wind or rain was going to stop me from attending.
The morning planning session offered a few interesting options that were safely in my box and one crazy option that was on the edge of my box. Two groups were going to reasonably protected areas to work on skills with one of the two groups getting a little more exposure. A third group, that was all coaches and 5 star paddlers, was going in the belly of the beast for a nice long paddle. I did actually pause and talk to Greg before deciding to saddle up and ride out into the worst of it. I don't get many chances to really paddle. I have been taking (mostly reasonable) risks all summer in a vain attempt to prove to myself that I am not turning into some soft in the middle old guy (which I am). If I was going to get into trouble being surrounded by 5 star paddlers is a pretty safe to be.
We paddled SE out of the harbor to the far side of the inner sea wall. In the harbor the swell was a few feet high and making forward progress was tough. The seeds of doubt were beginning to creep in, but I kept them at bay. This was nothing I hadn't paddled in many times before - granted it usually wasn't in November when I needed a jacket to keep from getting cold....
When we got to the sea wall wave were breaking over the top of it. The only "safe" place was directly behind the wall. The space between the wall and the point was a surf zone with particularly nasty breakers near to the wall. Beyond the wall was giant swells that often became breakers. I was definitely questioning the sanity of my decision, but it was too late to turn back....
I paddled out beyond the wall, sure to stay out of the roughest of the surf near the wall to test out the conditions. It was big and scary, but not too bad. I worked on hold my position, doing some basic boat control stuff, and then caught a decent ride back inside the wall to a spot where it was easy to get out of the surf. There was one small moment where I saw myself breaking into pieces on some rocks, but I managed to steer the Aries out of danger.
Feeling a little more confident, I headed out for another round. I figured by lunch I might work my way up to trying the big stuff near the wall. I got out beyond the wall into some big swells, started to turn the Aries into position to catch a wave, and went to use a quick low brace to stabilize myself against a swell. Then SNAP. I was paddling with two sticks when I should have had just one... DON'T PANIC... TAKE A BREATH... ASSESS THE SITUATION... DETERMINE A COURSE OF ACTION.. The brace worked well enough to keep me upright and the larger piece of the stick was big enough to be useful for bracing and possibly enough to mange a surf ride inside the wall. If I went over it was unlikely that I would be able to execute a roll. I did not have enough leverage with the stick pieces to do any significant maneuvering in the wind and swells. A coach was within earshot. I shouted for help which was quick to arrive. We pulled out and assembled my spare Lendal. Then we stowed the remnants of the stick and separated since I now had a fully functional paddle. How was the coach supposed to know that the last time I had used this paddle in anything more serious than level two trip on a windless day was a fading memory or that when I last used it in a pool rolling session the results were hardly consistent....
DON'T PANIC... TAKE A BREATH... TAKE A STROKE... FEEL HOW THE PADDLE MOVES IN THE WATER... REMEMBER THAT KAYAKING IS ABOUT MORE THAN JUST THE PADDLE... THIS IS JUST A STICK OF A DIFFERENT SORT... I managed to get myself settled and the Aries under control. I paddled around in the big swells a bit, lined up for and then backed off a few surf waves. Then I just went for it and surfed into the safer zone inside the wall.
It took a while for me to work my way back up to venturing into the big zone again. I took some time inside the wall to reacquaint myself with my old friend the Lendal Kinetic Touring (which is IMHO the best Euro paddle ever designed). There were some smaller waves to catch inside the wall.
After some goading from the others in the group, I did make my way out past the wall again. It was hard to catch rides because the surf was not clean unless you were in tight to the sea wall and that was not where I was going. It was an excellent test of my skills. I didn't catch any spectacular waves or do any awesome rolls in monster swells. I managed to stay upright and in control of my kayak in big conditions with an unfamiliar paddle. It was enough.
The coaches were doing some spectacular stuff near the wall. They were catching big waves and taking monster runs. There was also plenty of rolling up when a surf run went bad. It was a sight to behold.
As always Greg offered just the right little pointers and words of encouragement. He noticed that I was not punching through the top of my stroke as much as I could. After he pointed it out and had me focus on it, I definitely had more power for punching through the swells without using much more energy. It probably gave me the edge I needed to make it through the day.
After lunch the conditions evened out. They were still big, but more predictable. We played in the surf a bit more. Then we headed out beyond the sea wall towards the western end. From there we crossed over to sandy island. It was interesting going. Behind the wall things were choppy and bouncy. The crossing to sandy island was mostly big following seas which required a lot of energy but provided a lot of nice long rides.
The paddle down sandy island and back to the put in was a slog. The back side of the island was shallow water and the wind was in our face the whole time. I couldn't get a good grip on the water and the wind had plenty of grip on the big lollipop paddle I was swinging. Once we turned and headed back into the harbor the wind was not so bad. It was a strong quartering wind, but the shore blunted a good bit of its force.
Back at the launch I had the usual conflicted feelings. I was pooped and ready to get out of the boat, but still reluctant to set foot on land and call it a day. Being back on shore always feels like a small loss; an ending of some small moments of joy and the return to the real world of work and the small everyday indignities. If I could just stay in the boat I could continue being the guy who had pushed the envelope of skill set and survived in the face of difficulty.
Of course, the loss is not real and I am still the guy who pushed through a tough challenge. The small indignities of life are all just challenges that must be faced and pushed through. It is just that on the water they feel bigger and more heroic.
So, the Gales lived up to its name and once again gave me a forum to push myself surrounded by excellent coaches. It also gives me a chance to upgrade my stick.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Rock Wall Face Plant

I could not get away to paddle this weekend, but I did have a few hour free to take advantage of the nice weather. The girls were at church, so I decided to worship in my own way: mountain biking.
I decided to wear some extra clothes because it was a little chilly which made me feel a little off. I also hadn't been on any big trails in a few weeks so I was a little rusty. I was in general a little nervous about getting hurt while riding solo (Imagine me being conscientious). So, I decided to ride the hard part of the Western Greenway from my house.
The initial hill is always a bitch. I can never quite remember where the turn is an it is a steep hill, so I'm rarely in a good gear and my front tire always feels likes its gonna bounce off the trail. Today there was the added challenge of leaves all over the trail. I spun out about halfway up.
After the big up hill there are some steep, narrow, twisty down hills before you come to a junction that where you can choose to go over to the part of the Greenway I always ride or to go down the path less taken. I was feeling a little off and out of my depth, but also full of adrenaline and the need to make the most of my brief bit of solo time.
I took the path less taken. In some ways it was a smart choice because there are less hills and more jump out points. The way I usually go is at least 6 miles and mostly uphill until it levels out and then there is the call of the water tower.... The other path is a lot of down hill at the beginning and the YMCA is only 4 miles in and makes a perfect bail out point if needed. After the YMCA things do start going back up hill, but it is gradual and only for about two miles or so I remembered.
So I made the turn and headed down the hill. It started off fine. I was solid but nervous, so I did my best to keep it slow and keep my butt back.
About half way to the YMCA there is a section with a turn at the bottom of a hill that leads to a quick hop over a low gap in a rock wall. I have done this feature a few times with no problems. I have done several features much trickier with no issues. Today I hit the gap just wrong. The front fork compressed, the tire stoped, and I launched over the bars.
The landing was less painful than I had feared. My I had jammed a finger, banged up my knee, scraped a shin, and avoided smashing my head into anything. I was shaken, but not enough to stop.
It is funny how things work sometimes. The fall should have probably made me more nervous and cautious which would have led me to likely more falls. Instead it did the opposite. I relaxed and my riding got more smooth. The trail from that point is also a little less technical, so that helped the not falling, but I just felt more relaxed. The worst had already happened.
It turned into a great ride. I finished off the back part of the Greenway. It was not a piece of cake, but a nice burn.
After I passed through the Paine Estate I locked out the front shocks and headed down Forest Street with the intention of going straight home. I didn't want to push myself too hard...
Then I got to the turn where I could go straight home or go back into the woods and take the long way home.
Straight home is a short, steep hill followed by a fun downhill.
The woods are flat(ish) but about 3 miles longer.
It is sunny.
I'm not feeling wiped out. A few more miles would be more than I planned, but I have gas in the tank.
I unlocked the forks and dropped into the woods. When I passed the water tower run, the wheels started drifting towards the start of the trail. I restrained myself and stayed on the flat ground. I rounded the bog, used a what was left of my self control to stay on the main trail up to the 1st road crossing.
I forgot that after the road crossing was a long low incline. It is not a hard or technical climb, but it was the end of a longish ride when I am out of shape. I enjoyed it, but I also took a break. I was glad it was a short section with an escape hatch at the end.
The hardest part of the section is the steep scramble at the end. I started the climb strong, then my back wheel spun on some leaves.... I was glad that the road on the top of the hill offered a flat, straight shot to my house.
When I got off the bike, I felt the burn. I was totally gassed. It felt good.
As I was putting my gear away, I noticed a pointy dent in the forehead of my helmet. When I hit the wall, I must of hit a sharp rock with my head and never felt a thing. The dent went through the plastic and into the foam. There is nothing as good as a good helmet.
I don't know what is about me and a mountain bike... I get swept up in the rush and play on the edge of the box...
It is better than being on the couch....

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Rock (and not so much surf) Clinic

Osprey had an open spot on their Rock and Surf Clinic today and I had a free day to play. I figured a day of excellent coaching in the rocks and surf would be perfect.
I was a little bit sad to find out that Carl wasn't teaching, but he and Sam always hire the best coaches around. I was not worried about the quality of the instruction.
The coach was a little surprised to see that I showed up with an Ares for a rock class or that I would also bring a stick. He figured only fools would be looking to smack a glass boat into a rock.... What is an Ares for if not playing in rocks and surf - as long as you don't hit the rocks too hard. Besides, if I broke the pumpkin I could just leave it with Carl and he'd make it good as new - if not better.
It was a small class: just myself and one other paddler. The other guy was pretty new but could hold his own.
We took off from Sakonett and headed out past the point to the rock garden. The conditions were good for getting comfortable around the rocks. The water was pushy, but not so pushy that you couldn't get in close.
We spent the morning in the rocks getting pointers about technique and timing. My rotation was a little bit off. I could pay attention to what my feet are doing a little bit more. I could try a few different edging things. It was all good advice and minor tweaks. Exactly what I was looking for while also getting to play.
When it came time for surfing, we were out of luck. The conditions just were not happening. The waves were trickling up the beach. We did spend some time talking about boat positioning on waves to maintain control. Without practicing it, most of what was talked about flitted out of my head. I do remember that you want to stay in front of the wave so it doesn't trap your stern, but you can't stay too far ahead because then you won't get a push. Basically, I think the take away was that long boats are not great for surfing....
Fortunately for me, the Ares is not a very long boat.
On the way back to the out in we played in the rocks some more. Then we packed up headed back to the shop.
It was a great day on the water and I always recommend classes with Osprey. They have never let me down.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

What Have I Done?

It is sort of amazing how much I mange to actually do given the amount of panic and anxiety I inflict upon myself on a regular basis.
I think it is fairly well know that I am in near constant fear of having a heart attack. In fact, there have been several recent bike outings where I have been nearly paralyzed by the readings of my activity tracker. It says I did a strenuous workout, or that my heart rate strayed above the normal max rate for a male my age, and I seriously question my fitness to drive home without keeling over. Then I spend several days waiting to keel over. This is true even if I finish the ride feeling totally gassed or just moderately tired. I also worry about being poisoned by random toxins just free floating in the environment and an array of slowly developing chronic and totally deadly ailments (cancer, etc.). These are just on top of the standard daily anxieties caused by daily life and chronic low self-esteem.
The fears do not stay contained to my own body. I also spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about Bug's health. I'm pretty sure I woke up several times a night to check on her for her first two years of life because of SIDs. I still worry about her suffering a dry drowning incident after she goes swimming.
I do not share any of these fears with her. My anxieties have no place in the life of a child. I'm sure she will develop her own set of crazy.
This is a long intro to a very short story.....
Today was supposed to be a NEMBA kids ride and Bug really wanted to go because it was going to be her third ride - T-shirt!!! So we get up, see that it is a beautiful day, pack the truck up, and head out. The ride was in Ipswich which is about 40 minutes away, so we made sure we had plenty of time to get there.
When we arrive at the designated meeting spot, we discover a paucity of cars. There are maybe four cars in the lot and none of them have bikes on them. They belong to the group of people playing ball on the field.
Confused, I call Heather to see if she can check the NEMBA site. While I am calling, Bug hops out of the car and heads into the field to start doing cartwheels and other tricks.
It turns out that Ipswich was recently designated a high EEE area and that out of caution NEMBA cancelled the ride. H also tells me that they had done arial spraying and that the town had not really done much to curtail activities....
Now I have to do a quick risk assessment and figure out what Bug and I should do. My first thought is to head back to our area and find someplace near there to ride. But, she is already out of the car.... It is mid-morning and we have commercial strength bug spray and are wearing long sleeves and she has long pants on.... She really is not ready to get back in the car after spending nearly an hour driving and spend another hour in the car.... There are people out on the baseball diamond and a guy riding a horse... There is no standing water....
We decide that a short ride followed by ice cream is the plan.
The bike ride is short and reasonably fun. There do not seem to be any bugs.
The ice cream place serves good quality ice cream and has several customers and no bugs.
We get home and unpack the car and Bug starts itching the back of her leg.... She got bitten....
Since then, I spent a lot of energy worrying. I, of course, spent an inordinate amount of time on the internet researching EEE. It is apparently fairly rare in humans, and often does not cause much more than mild flu-like symptoms. Except for the cases where it doesn't and results in neurological damage or death.
Also, Ipswich was designated as a high EEE area not because anyone there had actually gotten EEE or because any birds or mosquitoes in in the area had tested positive for EEE, but because one person who had traveled through Ipswich had contracted it.
None of this is going to help me sleep or feel better about my decision this morning. It is going to be a long week. It can take up to ten days for symptoms to show..... It is more likely that I will get sick from lack of sleep and stress than that Bug will even get the sniffles. It is more likely that she will sprain or break something doing gymnastics or dance.
None of that matters because my anxiety and fear are not rational. I will, however, get through and not let her know because that is what needs to be done. Life goes on, bills get paid, children are loved and made to feel safe.