Friday, March 27, 2020

Quarantine Week 2

So we have made it two weeks largely isolated from the rest of the world without killing each other or showing any signs of plague. There have been several close calls on both fronts. Small child, as small children are want to do, put up several good fights about why it is unfair that she needs to do school work when her friends aren't, why restricting her time on electronics is cruel to the point of torture, and why it is actually healthier to stay up until one is actually tired. Every sniffle, cough, twinge of sore throat, or chest twinge has set off alarm bells.
Last week H had a lot of flexibility to maintain structure while I continued to slave away for the man from the confines of my bunker. This week H's work was trying to figure out what distance learning looks like when kids are out of school for at least six weeks. We struggled to keep some semblance of structure with just one kid. I cannot imagine how people are managing with multiple children.
OK, I do know how some manage it based on frequency of calls, texts, and other pings Bug got through out the day. It is amazing how connected todays kids can be. For a child who needs social contact, the internet is a small blessing. There are virtual playdates in Roblox and FaceTime lego challenges and Google Duo make up parties and Messenger Kids games and virtual classroom meetups. It is crazy. It can also make small child crazy. There have been a few nights where disconnecting her triggers something akin to coming down from a high. It was like she was going through detox....
I cannot say that all the connectivity would have changed my life at all or improves it in anyway. I am actually much happier working away from the office. All the noise and drop in distractions and constant cleaning was crazy making. The virtual connectivity options are nice because they can be muted and otherwise managed.
I'm still exercising like a fool. The overcast weather forced me onto a creaky old exercise bike. 30-40 minutes maintaining 130-140bpm is a great way to get the stress out. Of course when I'm breathing heavy afterwards, I do freak out a little bit.
I'll be totally honest and say that it is not just the clouds and rain that is keeping me inside. On Sunday, H wanted to get us out of the house and we went to a nearby beach. We were able to maintain way more the 6 feet from any other people, but it totally stressed me out. On the one nice day this week, I did go for a walk. I started out on the streets in my neighborhood and was able to keep far, far away from others. The roads are wide and not busy, so crossing to avoid people was easy. Then I hit a part of the walk that was in the woods and of course, the trail was packed with people. I got way off trail to avoid people the first few times. Then I just gave up.
My crazy got the best of me...
We have also had to deal with grocery acquisition without going to stores. We did find a local store that has a great curb-side pick up and have managed to get other stuff from Amazon. H goes to great lengths to ensure that everything is properly decontaminated. OK, I probably, make her do way more than necessary.
I keep reminding myself of Anna's big song in Frozen II: "Just do the next right thing"
I keep eyes on the next immediate thing. I exercise. I meditate. I focus on the people I love.
I do not look at the news. H has even cut down on Facebook. It is all too scary and depressing.
This will pass and things will work out. I am still hoping that summer happens and we can all get back to paddling and biking and camping and hanging out.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Quarantine Week 1

I've been in social isolation since last Wednesday. My kid had a stomachache, which was probably nerves; I WFH on Thursday; Friday they closed the schools for three weeks.... Or more likely until May or September.

Aside from some seasonal allergies and anxiety induced crazy, we are all fine.
We are taking our temperatures like 100 times a day, washing our hands every 10 minuets, and sanitizing everything regularly for at least the next week to make sure we stay fine. 2-14 days is what the current information says is incubation time.
Maybe then my health focused anxiety will lessen. I can turn feeling short of breath and tired from a killer mountain bike ride and turn it into a cardiac issue without any cause. My doctor, despite his best judgment, had me take a stress test (with imaging) to mollify my fear of impending cardiac doom and I'm still not 100% sure I won't just drop after a hard workout.....
One way I deal with this is to push myself a little just to prove to myself that I am OK. So if I'm nervous that I am going to keel over, I will go for a bike ride or a long walk figuring I will either prove myself right or prove myself wrong. Neither option is really good. Proving myself right means, at a minimum, a hospital visit. Proving myself wrong just makes me feel bad and doesn't really prove anything.
The current health scare has me doing similarly silly things. I was feeling a little tired and tight chested this morning after sitting on the cramped little couch in my office typing on my cramped little laptop doing some tedious work thing to help the rich stay rich by testing some publishing platform that is glitzy but that our team is unprepared to use because they still think people read books on the web, so I decided to brave the damp, chilly air and go for a two mile power walk on some of the biggest hills in my hood. (I kept at least 6 feet from all other human beings.) What did I prove to myself.... That I can walk 2 miles; that it is hard to do given that I usually do not walk that far up that many hills; that physical exertion makes one breath heavy..... On the plus side, if I keep it up walking up steep hills for several miles will just get easier and easier and if hiking season doesn't get canceled I'll be more than ready for our multi-day Hut Hike.
We have all also cut down news consumption to once a day. At least I have and H says she has. H does look at Facebook more than is probably healthy. (I think the simple act of logging in to Facebook is unhealthy, so I'm not a good gauge.)
Aside from being generally crazy, the house is running as smoothly as can be expected.
H is doing her best to keep child on a schedule that involves school work, creative endeavors, and problem solving. Child keeps trying to sneak in FaceTime and iMessage chats with her friends or TikToK time. It is the age old struggle - just now we cannot offload the majority of it to the underpaid and under appreciated teachers who are typically on the front lines.
We are fortunate to have access to countless online resources and two college educated adults. Child is also fortunate that she has so many ways to stay in touch with her friends. (Not that I can understand the need; I've muted the chat rooms at work because I prefer the quiet.) She has been having a daily Lego Challenge playdate with one friend over FaceTime. We also have incredibly dedicated teachers who are sending out regular online assignments and links to resources.
I cannot imagine how hard this is for families without access to technology, the ability for both parents to work from home, or the ability to put good food on the table everyday. Our school system is providing two squares a day for families in need. The local Y is running daily programs for parents who truly need daycare for their children.
For now, I am counting my blessings and hoping that the storm will pass with the least damage possible. Hopefully in a month we can all come out of our burrows and get on with life as normalish.
Stay safe and as sane as possible.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Pool Play

My luck with pool sessions this season has been pretty bad. Nearly everyone has fallen on the same day as a gymnastics competition.
Don't get me wrong, I love watching my daughter and her friends compete; they are amazing athletes.
Still a little bit of water time does have a certain restorative power that sitting in a gym cannot match.
Fortunately, this weekend the rolling session and the competition fell on different days!!! Saturday was spent doing gymnastics stuff (competitions can be an all day affair despite the fact the each kid only spends a couple of minutes doing stuff). Sunday got to be pool party time!!!
It was also the first time I was going to get to see how rolling with the new Kalleq. It was a very exciting time.
I started off just getting a feel for the paddle by maneuvering around the pool, doing some sculling draws, and some sculling for support. Then I took the plunge... It wasn't the prettiest roll, but I ended right side up. The Kalleq has a surprising amount of power when rolling - more than any of the wooden sticks I've used - yet feels very light. I can usually feel it in my shoulders when I power my way through a roll, but with the Kalleq.
I did get some very good pointers about watching my paddle tip while rolling. I also got reminded to keep my head down. Once I started doing that, things went much smoother.
Once upon a time, I was a pretty balanced roller. Once upon a time, I paddled three times a week. Now I definitely have a strong side and a weak side. Fortunately, all the practice that I used to do means that I can stay relatively calm under water and switch sides in a pinch.
The Kalleq even made me confident enough to try rolling without extending the blade like a Euro paddler. It was surprisingly effective. I think I got like 95% of the rolls I tried. It was a little weird because I could feel the back side of the paddle bumping against the hull.
Tim M. tried out the Kalleq for awhile as well. He seemed OK with it.
While he used the Kalleq, I tried to do some rolls with my trusty Lendal.... It was far less rewarding then I had hoped... I struggled to get the angle of the blade correct. I did manage a few rolls, but none that made me feel confident that I could do it in the wild. (It is a good thing I didn't consider that I may not be able to roll with the Lendal during the Gales....)
I also did some re-entry and rolls which are always a good thing to have in the back pocket.
Watching some of the regulars did make me a little jealous. The Tims and Gary have bombproof rolls that mostly look effortless. One of the Tims was even doing rolls with half a paddle after doing a rat swim to get the paddle.
Then I remembered why I don't paddle three times a week anymore; I have an awesome wife and kid at home. The bombproof roll can wait until the kid turns into a teenager who is too embarrassed to hang out with her dad.
After the pool Tim M. and I grabbed coffee. It was nice to catch up and unwind.
I returned home energized and looking forward to summer.

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.