Sunday, November 19, 2006

Birthday Paddle

Today was auspicious for many reasons: I got to paddle, hang out at my favorite coffee joint, and do all these things in excellent company. There was some anxiety about the plans coming together. I couldn't make the Saturday paddle and wasn't sure who would be up for a Sunday paddle. On Friday night Tim and I decided that we would do a low key paddle out of Marina Park and then get some coffee at Java Madness. To complicate matters even more, neither one of us had access to any form of modern communication gear until later on Saturday. H was on the fence about paddling in the cold. Our oven was thwarting her efforts at baking bunt bliss. Ultimately, the little frustrations made the outcome even more delicious.
H and I packed up the kayaks Sunday morning and before hitting the road pondered how long it had been since the egg proudly wore both of our kayaks. It had been at least a month and more likely six weeks. H didn't paddle on the Barking Crab expedition and I was trapped at work on the Veteran's Day paddle out of Wickford. It is a little sad to think that the gaps between paddles will get longer before they get shorter. H, I'm sure, feels it a little more than I do since she does not paddle in the winter.
For a change, we were the first people at the launch. Tim showed up a few minutes later and Bob, in his sexy back box, followed in short order. Paddle preparations took a back seat to checking out Bob's box. The little Scion B model is pretty impressive. The seats are comfy, there is a ton of room in the back end, and the racks have plenty of span. It even has a satellite ready radio.
As we were getting ready to paddle, it became evident that H was not going to be able to go. Her lips were turning blue and she was getting very cold. Wisely, she decided that, despite wanting to paddle with on me on my B-day, she would visit a friend while we were on the water. She figured I'd have more fun if I didn't have to worry about her freezing. She also figured it would be more fun to be in a good mood for the post paddle partying.
The final group of paddlers was Tim, Bob, Rich, and myself. We headed out of Marina Park along the docks at a leisurely pace. I needed some time to warm up. I'm not sure if it was the Flu shot I got on Friday, the fact that I'd been out of the kayak for a few weeks, or the cold weather gear, but I was feeling out of sorts when we started out. I was stiff, couldn't find my rhythm, or keep the Q-boat's tail from wandering. I kept whacking the skeg control, so adjusting the drift with the skeg was tricky.
Once past the point of Harbor Island we hugged the western shore and wended our way towards Snug Harbor. Along the way we found plenty of shallow water and rocks--not the fun kind of rocks either....
I was paddling along talking to Bob when WHACK. I ran the Q-boat bow first into a sleeper. The nose of the Q-boat has steep angle and the rock was perfectly poised to inflict maximum damage to the "impressive clipper bow." The scar is superficial, but long and ragged. I've put the Q-boat in plenty of desperate straights in the few short months I've captained her and earned nary a scratch. The irony is delectable.
I'd never been to Snug Harbor. It looks like it would be interesting at the right point in the tide, but today wasn't happening. There was a decent current running. I managed to use it to impress Bob. As a power boat came into the channel, I did a speedy sculling draw while moving backwards. The current did all of the work, but I took all of the credit.
From Snug Harbor we headed back past the commercial fishing docks and under the bridge to head down the eastern side of the pond. It looked like Tim was going to drive the group back to the launch without lunch. Bob and I quickly started whining and Tim, after consulting his new watch ($14 at Target), decided that we could stop for a quick lunch.
Over lunch we debated the plausibility of the Block Island Ferry being completely automated. Rich was told, by an authoritative source, that the Ferries were run completely on automatic. According to his source, the pilots didn't even perform the docking maneuvers. Tim, Bob, and I took the contrary position. Tim and Bob took the it doesn't make sense from a safety position. I took the it doesn't seem technologically feasible based on the economics position. The discussion veered off to a discussion of how they use GPS to anchor oil platforms and other large vessels that need to be held at precise positions in open water.
Before hitting the water, Tim broke out the birthday bunt muffins. We even had candles. H's frustration from the night before paid off. The muffins were a blast of chocolate goodness. Bob's became the brick of chocolate goodness that kept bubbling to the surface, but that is a tale for him to tell.
The paddle back to the put-in was superb. What little wind there had been died down. I was feeling back in form and lunch energized me. I decided to just open it up. As I picked up the cadence, I felt better and the Q-boat grew steadier. Tim calls the state I was in Zen paddling. It is an apt description. You allow yourself to focus on the cadence, the weight of the blade through the stroke, the motion of the kayak in the water, the sound of the group. The rest of the stress, confusion, pressure, and happiness of the rest of your life fades to the background. The effort of paddling energizes you from a primordial well that lays hidden from the workaday world.
Back at the launch Tim, Rich, and I practiced our cold water rolling while H, who pulled into the parking lot as we pulled into the dock, snapped some "action" shots. It is amazing how much the cold can effect things. For a couple of rolls I wore a warm fleece cap and it wasn't bad. Then I took the hat off... Talk about an ice cream headache. The water is still in the 50's.
Once we got changed and repacked, Tim, Bob, H, and I convened at Java Madness for a well deserved cup-o-joe. We gossiped, heard Bob's tale of terror from Saturday's paddle, and talked about big paddle plans for next season. These are the things that will get us through the cold weather: good conversation over warm coffee, dreams of adventures to come, and the knowledge that we have excellent friends to enjoy them.
I am a very lucky man who had an excellent birthday. May we all be so fortunate.

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