Sunday, July 27, 2008

Oh, Canada

Since January, H & I, along with PB, LB, RB, BH, MA, CC, have been planning a trip to Northern Quebec to paddle in the St. Lawrence water way and see whales. We'd planned out meals, driving arrangements, and a number of other details. The anticipation built up to a point where all other events paled in comparison. I was a little worried that the vacation could never live up to the hype.
On Thursday night, H & I loaded most of our stuff into the egg. We packed it to the gills: Two tents, a screen house, kayaking gear (including drysuits), biking gear, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, a gigantic cooler... We left the food and our clothes for Friday. H figured that she'd have plenty of time to finish off the packing while I was at work....
Friday morning I got a call from a man interested in purchasing my old kayak and was en-route to our house. We figured it would be a quick transaction. Most people don't fit into the cockpit and leave. The good news was that the guy fit and shelled over cash. The bad news was that it took more than an hour out of H's day.... So instead of leaving at 4pm we got on the road closer to 6pm.
Friday night we drove to Franconia, NH and stayed at the Stoneybrook Motel. Sat. we got up early and planned to hit the road early. We stopped in Littleton for a quick breakfast at Talk of the Town. We ate a good meal and then decided to walk it off a bit by exploring the strip. H wanted to look for a headlamp and see if we could get a French reference.
At 11:30 we headed north towards Canada. The drive to Quebec City was easy. The only excitement was the Canadian road signs. Their deer crossing signs had a stylish flying deer. The beware of deer sign showed the deer crossing sign colliding with a car sign with some blood spatter.
Quebec City seemed small as we zipped through on the highway. However, when we exited onto Rt. 138 the sprawl surrounding Quebec City seemed endless. It was a little like driving on Rt. 1 coming out of Boston. Miles and miles of sprawl.
We did see one interesting thing - the Cyclorama. I thought it might be a cycling track (a velodrome). I was excited, but a quick check of the guide book proved I was wrong. It is a circular mural depicting the Jerusalem when Christ was killed. We skipped it.
Once beyond the sprawl of Quebec City the mountains start. We started seeing signs indicating 8% inclines at regular intervals. The poor egg, loaded to the gills and covered in gear, performed admirably, but was clearly suffering. Not having a lot of practice with crazy hill driving, I was not shifting efficiently which didn't help the egg. We even saw some 10% grades.
The final leg of the drive on Sat. was crazy. A worker at the rest area in Baie-Saint-Paul gave us directions to our hotel that took us down a little side road and was very direct. The road was a 20% downhill grade with a number of switchbacks. To take some of the heat off the breaks, I put the egg in third . Even with that, the breaks stank when we reached the bottom of the hill.
On Saturday night we were staying in a little town called St. Joseph-de-lla Rive at L'auberge Beauséjour. We knew that PB and LB were also staying at the same hotel, so we figured we could plan our mission to secure camp sites the next day. The camp ground was another 3 hours and camp sites were first come first serve. We decided that the best balance between getting up too early and getting to the camp ground too late was to shoot for getting to the camp ground around noon.
We got a happy surprise at dinner. Through the windows we say a skulking figure looming on the porch that looked suspiciously like BH... The RI cars (BH, CC, MA, and RB) were also staying at L'auberge Beauséjour. They had been driving longer than H & I or PB & LB. MA was suffering from sever jet lag. She arrived home from China the day before. So, the H, PB, LB, and I told them to sleep in and that we would secure the campsites.
We rose early and embarked on the 3+ hour drive to Paradis Marin. The road was a scenic winding affair with more killer hills. The egg was definitely earning its keep. The drive was bisected by a short ferry ride across the Sangueny River. The ferries cross the river like clock work as it is one of the few points it is possible to get a car across the river. The first bridge is an hour plus inland.
The camp site we secured was perfect. It was large enough to hold all of our collective stuff-6 tents, a screen house, eight kayaks, eight camp chairs, and seven bikes-with ease. It was spitting distance from the kayak launch. It had a clear, omnipresent view of the water. It was next to the showers, bathrooms, and the laundry room. It was also next to the Cafe Blue - which served fantastic coffee.
Once camp was set up, most of the group went for a bike rides. PB is a speed demon on his bike, so he went off to get his ya-yas out while the rest of us went for a relaxing bike ride. According to our rough translation of the list of nearby recreational facilities, there was supposed to be a paved bike path that ran past the entrance to Paradis Marin. We found a bike path, but it was not paved. Fortunately, we all had suitable bikes for off road riding.
The bike trail heading west was lovely. It was was well packed and went through some nice woods. There was one treacherous, steep, and long hill that was fun to go down. Coming back up nearly killed all of us.
For evening fun the boys did a short kayak trip to see whales. While dinner was being prepped, whales were spotted just off the shore of the campground. We were in our drysuits and on the water in a flash. (We didn't bring a lot of safety gear with us, but we weren't going very far.) Once on the water, we discovered that the water is freezing. The temperature just a few yards off shore was noticeably cooler. We also discovered that it was harder to spot whales from a kayak than it is from land.
Fortunately, there was a Minke whale that was willing to oblige us. It surfaced a number of times where we could see it. RB was the only one who got within 50 yards or so of the whale, but it was nice for the first day. It convinced us that over the course of the week we'd be paddling in a sea of whales.
Day two of camping started off cool, windy, and foggy. We were not going to get the kayaks in the water early. So, after breakfast, we walked to a nearby whale observatory.
The observatory juts out into the river and is made up of large rocks. Once we found spots that were out of the wind and provided an excellent view, we settled in and started searching the water. Whale watching involves a lot of watching and very few whales... I spotted what looked like a Minke with a giant blow. It turned out that I spotted a Fin whale.
After lunch, several of us went back into Tadoussac to explore. After taking a breif stroll through the town, we found a walking path that took us out along the mouth of the fjord. The path was nice and offered us a spectacular view of a Minke whale and a Minke calf feeding. We even got to see the calf show us its pink belly.
Before dinner, the four boys took another quick spin in the kayaks hoping to spot whales. We were skunked this time out.
Day three was windy, but not foggy. The river looked a little choppy, but nothing worse than we encounter in the Bay. We decided to paddle and see what we could find. After about an hour on the water we'd seen some birds, a seal, and a few porpoise. Given that it was windy and choppy and we weren't seeing any whales, we called it a day and headed home.
After lunch the rest of the group decided to head back to Tadoussac and hike along the fjord. I decided that I would stay behind and catch some alone time. I enjoyed a great cafe mocha from the cafe next to our camp site and read a little. After the caffeine infusion, I set out for a bike ride to Les Escoumins.
Les Escoumins is a town at the eastern end of the bike path running through Paradis Marin. The ride was great. The bike path mostly winds through the woods running along Rt. 138 and is pretty well maintained. The last 1/4 of the trail, however, is terrible. It is so sandy that it is largely impassable. Riding along Rt. 138 is terrifying. The cars, and large trucks, whiz by at high speed and the gutter is mostly dirt.
The town of Les Escoumins is nondescript. Along 138 is a small downtown area. The town also has a first nation reservation that looked pretty run down. I didn't hang out for long.
I arrived back at the camp site in time to catch the beginning of the nightly Beluga march. For an hour each night you could watch the Belugas head south towards the Fjord. They are easy to spot in the evening light. Their white body's seem to glow.
That evening the Cafe had some live music. Every year a couple comes to Paradis Marin for vacation and play music at the cafe. They had met the singer that day, but managed to play excellent music.
The forecast for day four was ominous. The winds were supposed to be moderate in the morning and ferocious in the afternoon. Given the forecast, we decided to do a short paddle in the morning. It was a nice paddle, but paddling for whales involves a lot of drifting. You paddle and watch; paddle and watch; paddle and watch. It is also very hard to spot whales from a kayak. You're POV is narrow and low to the water.
After lunch we waited for the weather to turn and planned to tackle the bike path once again. The weather held and the terrible winds never materialized. That was OK though. Our bike ride was the better for the pleasant weather.
Day five it rained. We had a great breakfast at a restaurant in Les Escoumins. They struggled to find us a waitress whose English was up to dealing with our French. The menu was extensive and we spent a lot of time eying other people's food.
After breakfast, PB, LB, RB, BH, and I went to the geologic museum in Les Bergeron. It was the worst museum I have ever seen. It was so bad, they should pay people to go. We spent an hour there only because PB, RB, and I got sucked into a C-list movie about the evolution of man. The movie was so bad it was hypnotic....
Once we escaped from the movie, we went to Tadoussac to meet the rest of the group. We grabbed some lunch at a little internet cafe and then people headed off to do some more hiking. I decided to relax at the cafe, drink coffee, and read. It was a very good time. I even caught up on my e-mail.
Day six we decided to paddle in the fjord. It was a spectacular place to paddle. The high, tree covered shores reminded me of Alaska. We did spot some Belugas from shore. By the time we scrambled to our kayaks, they were gone. People were so mesmerized though that the group drifted apart. Half wound up paddling along one shore of the fjord and the other half paddled along the other. Paddling back to the put in offered the most exciting paddling of the whole trip. The currents and the winds conspired to give us some nice following seas. Even H got into the action.
Day six was our last day at Paradis Marin. We needed to check out by noon. It was also a beautiful paddling day.... So, we packed up camp first thing in the morning and then went kayaking. We were still hoping to paddle with whales, but were prepared to be skunked once again. We could not spot any whales, but made up for it by enjoying the nice weather and the paddling.
PB and LB had fortuitously, headed back to camp before the rest of the group. After dropping LB off on shore, PB headed out to catch some waves. Meanwhile on shore, H spotted a Minke whale heading right towards PB. H yelled her head off to get PB's attention. When he finally spotted her, he reacted immediately. The whale surfaced right in front of him. It was perfect. PB had put a lot of effort into making the trip happen and he definitely deserved to see a whale close up.
After we got off the water, the group, minus LB and PB, headed to Quebec City for the night. We stayed at one of the universities. The accommodations were "dorm room" sheik, but the price was right. The university was also directly on the bus route to the old city. We wandered around the old city for the evening and saw they Silo exhibit. It was a nice way to end the vacation.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Pushing It

Due to obligations, H and I could not join PB's Saturday paddle on the Westport River. I took the opportunity to zip the Q-Boat down to Carl Ladd's shop to get my leaky skeg patched up. Saturday in Westport was beautiful paddling weather.
Sunday was a little less ideal... It was colder, windier, grayer, and wavier. H and I arrived at Pier 5 to find people surfing just off the tip of the rocks. It was big and breaking. Beyond the break it looked much better. The swells were large, but smooth.
H immediately balked at the original float plan. TM, H, and myself were going to paddle from Pier 5 and head south towards Pt. Judith. This is a fun stretch of coast because of its exposure and because it offers places to get off the water in a pinch. Given the swell and the wind today, the route would be challenging.
After some discussion, the three of us decided that the wise plan was to head into the Bay and paddle out of Bay Campus. This plan would allow us to experience some of the swells and the challenging conditions, but would keep us a little more protected. It also had the advantage of being familiar to all three of us.
From Bay Campus we headed south along Bonnet Bluffs. The swells were 3-5 feet along the bluffs. It was a thrill to punch through them. There was also some opportunities to play in a few rocks...
TM and I were enjoying ourselves, but H was on the outside of her comfort zone. She was trooping through and pushing herself. About 3/4 of the way to Bonnet Cove, H wanted to change course. She'd had enough of battling the swells.
TM persuaded her that we should cross to Jamestown. Along the way he kept having H change course. First we'd paddle beam to the swells, then we'd turn and push into the swells, then we'd paddle beam to the swells, then we'd run up the Bay with following seas. It was not a crossing that could be done on a busy summer day with lots of boat traffic. Fortunately, the high gas prices and the weather kept that to a minimum.
We lunched on the Jamestown shore. H and I played with our new binoculars. We also contemplated our post-lunch paddle plan. I kept joking that we should head towards Beavertail. I knew, however, that we'd be heading back to Bay Campus. The big question was how direct the route was going to be.
TM, wisely, decided to follow our outbound route home. On the crossing, he played the same game of getting a feel for how the kayaks felt in the swells. Once back near the Bonnet shore, we turned up the Bay. The following seas pushed us home with some fun rides. I caught one that seemed to go for miles. It was one of those magical waves that just passes you on to its friend to keep the ride going. Even H caught a few good rides. Her Capella is excellent in following seas.
Once back at Bay Campus, we decided to a little rescue practice. H said she would do one rescue... So we took her out beyond the moorings, where the swells could be felt. As we were paddling out she looked over and hissed "Why do you make me suffer like this..."
Once we were settled squarely in swellville, I flipped over and became the rescue subject. H moved into position quickly, but couldn't quite get the kayaks to form a T. So, she backed off and kept trying to make the T. After a few tries, she got a hold of my kayak and did a great rescue. Despite the difficulty of holding on to a kayak in the swells she did an awesome job. She drained the water out of the cockpit and held the kayak steady while I climbed in the cockpit.
After H's rescue, it was my turn to do a rescue. TM dumped out of his kayak, and I moved in to position. Not being a stickler for form, I slipped in parallel to his kayak and then worried about getting the kayaks into a T. Then I did the rescue. I have a huge advantage in this over H - 100lbs and a lot of upper body strength.
TM and I then did a few rough water rolls and called it a day.
It was nice to get out and paddle in some rougher conditions. It was also nice to see H push herself. She is a much better paddler than she gives herself credit for being.
Rough water paddling is not for every paddler, nor is it for every paddle. However, it is good to experience occasionally. The ocean is a fickle mistress....

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Outer West Passage

We paddle the Outer West Passage all of the time. However, only once a year is it TM's official Outer West Passage paddle. It is his third paddle in the annual progression that starts with the Narrow River paddle in early June and ends with the Pier 5 to Castle Hill paddle in early August. The outer west passage is a great way to work into paddling in open ocean conditions because it offers a wide range of conditions in a reasonable day paddle distance. You get the rocky coasts along Jamestown and Bonnet Bluffs. You get the open ocean swells crossing from Beavertail to Whale Rock. You get some protected paddling closer to the Bay Campus.
Seeing as this paddle was the first 9am launch of the season, H and I made sure to set the alarm early. We also hustled to make sure were on the road for 7am. That would give us plenty of time to stop for my coffee and H's constitutional break. Surprisingly, everything went according to plan and we arrived at Bay Campus 30 minutes before launch.
TM and RR were there with three new paddlers. There were also a few other familiar faces. However, we were surprised to find a number of the regulars missing.
It turns out that they had forgotten about the time switch until this morning. Sure enough, cars started rolling in minutes before 9am. CC, RB, BH, and CMc scrambled to get on the water while the rest of us waited. It was an odd feeling to be a waiter. I'm usually the cause of the waiting.
We got on the water shortly after 9am and found it to be eerily calm. There was hardly any wind. The swells were little bumps on the water. There was not even enough swell to make playing in the rocks fun.
Even on a calm day the Outer West Passage is not to be taken lightly. The crossing from Beavertail to Whale Rock is long and is at the very mouth of the Bay. If there are going to be swells, that's where they will be. The swells were taking a holiday, but there was still a little action at Whale Rock.
The paddle back to Bay Campus was equally uneventful.
It was a nice day to be on the water and relax. Sometimes it is nice to have an easy day!!