Sunday, September 29, 2013

Good Ol' Gloucester

The hardest paddles to write about are often the best ones. Little Tim's paddle out of Gloucester was one of those paddles. It was a simple, calm paddle on a beautiful late summer day. We bounced enough to feel like we were on the ocean. Mostly we paddled, talked and soaked up the sun and surroundings. It was ideal for those paddlers not looking for the next shot of adrenaline.
The comic relief was land bound. A lost paddler called just before the main group was getting ready to launch and wanted to know where we were. They were waiting at what the locals said was Pavilion Beach. Turns out there is a much bigger parking lot at the next beach over which is separated from Pavilion Beach by an old factory.... We all launched together.
At lunch Little Tim showed us an idyllic knoll where we could eat and gaze out over the sea. It involved a little climbing to get to, but it wasn't too bad. With a little hunting there was even an "easy" path. As we made our way back to the kayaks, the park ranger intercepted two of us before we could get to the beach. Apparently, access to the beach is forbidden from the grassy knoll.... The ranger was determined to prevent the stragglers from rejoining the group, but was no match for the dynamic duo. After a tense game of cat and mouse we all made it to our kayaks.
Simple and relaxed was perfect.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Boston Harbor Islands

I love this annual trip. It always offers a relaxing and interesting day on the water. It also offers the opportunity to paddle with a few new people since the location is more amenable to MA paddlers.
We had perfect conditions for a day on the water. The sun was out and the winds were calm. We had timed the currents so that the Gut would be quiet on the way out and at our likely return time. We were all looking forward to a good day playing around the islands between Boston Harbor Light and Graves Light.
Things started to look bad before we made it through the Gut. One of the paddlers in the group wound up out of their kayak in the middle of the Gut. TG did a fast, clean rescue. I helped out stabilizing the kayaks (I wanted to look useful). Everyone was back in the kayaks quickly and without seeming to have suffered more than a little embarrassment.
It didn't take long to realize that the rescued paddler was not in great shape. They were taking short, choppy strokes and not moving particularly quickly. As one of the other paddlers put it "They are taking two strokes for every one of our strokes." I paddle a stick and use a high cadence, and this paddler was spinning faster than I was.
We were heading directly for the light house and all kept a close watch on the distressed paddler. It was probably safer to go the distance to the light house in calm water than try to make our way back through the Gut.
Once we got to the lighthouse we started discussing next steps. Fortunately, the distressed paddler volunteered to stay on the island for a bit. The rest of the group planned to explore the Brewster islands for a couple hours and return to the lighthouse for lunch. If the distressed paddler was felling better, we could all return to Hull as a group. I not, we would come up with a plan B.
The main body of paddlers explored the Brewster Islands and looked for rocks to dodge. The conditions were tame, so there was no real danger. There was enough danger to make things fun. I even pulled out the helmet and played. I forget how much fun it is to play chicken with rocks. It is more than a pure adrenaline rush. It is also the intellectual challenge of finding the right path and the right moment for safe and maximum fun.
At lunch we found the distressed paddler had recovered. They were ready to finish the day paddling. The plan was to paddle to Georges Island, check it the fort, and then return to the put in through the Gut when it was reasonably calm.
The rest of the day was relaxing. We monitored the distressed paddler, but they seemed much better. The pace was relaxed and the conditions were clam.
I had such a good day that I rolled a few times at the end of the day. It was a great day.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hermit Island

This is the second year we've gone to Hermit Island for camping. Getting sites is like getting concert tickets. You start calling on the designated day, get a busy tone, and keep dialing until someone answers. It may seem like a lot of work for primitive camping sites, but it is worth it. The sites are nice, the campground is quiet and well maintained, and the beaches are exquisite. The prices are also reasonable.
The first night was rough. The mosquitoes were unbearable. Venturing between the safety of the screen house and the tent cost a pint of blood each way.
Fortunately, things got much better. The first day we spent most of the time biking and hanging out on the beach. In the morning, Bug and I took our bikes out to explore after breakfast. She enjoyed the freedom afforded by the dirt roads and lack of cars. We stopped at the marina for a little while and explored the shore. Bug liked throwing rocks and looking at the hermit crabs. After lunch, we went to the main beach and hung out. Bug spent a lot of time digging in the sand and making castles.
The second day was kayaking. PB and I took out the "real" kayaks for some ocean paddling. We left the barge, which I had taken along despite H's protests, at the beach so H, Bug, KB, and the rest of the group could play.
I was using H's Capella 161 and my scoopy Lendal paddles. It was a different feel from the Q-boat and the mighty stick. The sky was clear blue, the temperature was on the warm side, and the wind was a no show. It took a little while for me to adjust to everything. It wasn't until we stopped for a snack and some water that I started feeling right. That was about the time PB started feeling less that ideal. The heat and lack of wind was not our friend. The serenity of the area and the beauty of the scenery mitigated the heat.
On our way into the beach, we ran into Bug and H paddling the barge. Bug was having a grand time and wanted to keep paddling. We made a quick decision to paddle the kayaks back to the camp sites instead of putting them back on the cars. H and I switched kayaks. It was only fair that she got a chance to paddle her own kayak. Beside, I like hanging out with Bug and some time in a kayak with her is an opportunity I cannot let pass.
The paddle back to the camp sites was short, but fun. Bug wanted to paddle "super fast", so I did my best to accommodate. The barge is heavy, short, and wide. It is not designed for speed, but it can be surprisingly spry when pushed. The scoopy Lendal paddles really helped out; I'm not sure the mighty stick could get the barge to go "sorta fast" never mind "super fast". She was happy to check out the other boats on the water. When we passed the marina, Bug asked me if I remembered the crabs. She had a big smile on her face as she recounted seeing them the day before.
When we got back to the sites, Bug wasn't quite ready to get out of kayak. The cove where the sites were located is protected and had plenty of water, so we decided to explore a little more. We paddled down to the end of the cove and checked out the store. Bug checked out the cars and other tents and asked all sort of questions. She sang "row, row, row your boat." It was one of the funnest times I've had on the water without rocks. On the way back up the cove, she waved at people.
We must have been in the kayak for more than an hour and she loved it. I was thrilled to spend the time with her doing something we both enjoy.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Outer West Passage

This paddle was a rare and unexpected treat. The outer west passage is one of my favorite places to kayak because it offers a gamut of conditions within easy reach. However, I wasn't expecting to be able to go on the paddle because I was seeing Jimmy Buffet the night before. In my 20's and most of my 30's I'd thought nothing of paddling on littler or no sleep, however in my 40's I consider the wisdom of paddle on a few hours of sleep.
H was insistent that I paddle and made sure I packed the UberEgg before we left for the concert. We got home from the concert earlier than I expected, so I made sure to get right to bed. With a good 6+ hours of sleep, I felt good in the morning. The weather was looking good as well. Not too warm with a slight breeze and clear skies. I left the house confident that I was going to have a good day on the water.
Little did I know just how good a day I was going to have. The conditions were perfectly tuned to my desires. The spring tides had the current running out of the Bay as fast as I have ever seen. The wind was just enough to keep us cool and create some good chop. The conditions were just inside the comfort zone. Since I don't get out on my own much, I prefer conditions that are more challenging. I can always find a little time with the family to paddle on flat water.
TM, our newly minted BCU 5-star paddler, coordinated the group with his usual skill. Since most of the members of the group were familiar with the area, the coordination was more about keeping the group together and managing the comfort levels of the paddlers. To me, this is the hardest part of coordinating a group and I am glad TM seems to enjoy it. He did an excellent job of allowing the group to spread just enough so that some paddlers could experience the bigger chop along the shore while others could paddle in the relative calm on the channel.
The most impressive bit was managing the group on the crossing from Beavertail to Whale Rock. The conditions on this part of the paddle are always the biggest. It is the entrance to the Bay and the ocean swells tend to be larger here than further inside the Bay. TM timed our paddle up the Jamestown coast to allow the conditions to settle before making the big crossing. Earlier in the morning the combination of the current and the wind was making big swells. When we got there, the swells were more reasonable for everyone in the group. They were big enough to provide some excitement, but not so big as to make trouble. TM also did a great job of ensuring that comfortable paddlers were evenly spread amongst the group to support the less comfortable paddlers.
For me this was the best part of the paddle. The combination of the big swells, the fast current, the wind, and the need to keep an eye on the group presented the perfect amount of challenge. There was no zoning out or getting frustrated. It was just focus. There were a few unpredictably large swells that gave me a pleasant surprise.
The relatively mild conditions along the bluffs were nice for practicing boat handling skills in the rocks. They also made for a nice cool down before hitting the beach.
Before finally relinquishing the ocean, I did a few rolls. They were a little creaky, but that was to be expected. I was happy that I rolled up without too much trouble. It was a great way to end a great day.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Fun in the Sun

Having a child forces you to do things differently. A few years ago, I made decision about when to paddle on the fly. Now, I make arrangements weeks in advance. Planning in advance is nice because you know you will get to paddle at least a few times a season. It also makes bad weather a big deal.
Fortunately bad weather was not an issue today. I'd been waiting for this paddle for many weeks.
We descended on the parking lot early to make sure we got parking. Manchester, like all towns on Cape Ann, has limited public parking. It has even less parking that is suitable for launching kayaks.
The weather was nearly ideal for a day on the water. Sunny, but not too warm. A light breeze and calm seas. The afternoon threatened some thunder showers, but we were not worried.
The plan was to paddle out to the Misery Islands, check out the area from Little Misery, and likely head out past Bakers to play on the rocky islands.
The morning was pleasantly uneventful. We meandered our way out to the Miseries. Along the way out JS and I reminisced about the last time we paddled this stretch of water. It was a very different paddle...
That day was cold and gray with mean seas. The swells were steep and unpredictable. We spent a lot our time trying not to surf into the other paddlers in the group and hoping for landfall. It was one of those days where you ask yourself, repeatedly, if you are crazy....
After a brief stop on Little Misery to see what was happening and pick our lunch spot, the group headed out towards Bakers. The seas were just bouncy enough to remind you that this was a sea kayak trip. I love this kind of paddling, particularly when I have been away from the water for a long time. The rhythm of the paddles and bounce of the swells become a mantra. It is an alert relaxation; it is revitalizing.
After lunch the paddling was more active. The winds and swells picked up a little. It was a nice change. The conditions required an active presence but wasn't enough to knock me out of the zone. Paddle, correct, paddle, correct, deploy skeg, paddle.... Just right to remind me that I was at the mercy of forces beyond my control. All I could do was be present and adjust as needed.
Back at the cars, I felt the rejuvenating effects of the paddle. I was more relaxed and more balanced. A great day on the water.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I've got a Byline

Despite being a full time writer, it has been a long time since I've had my own byline. The latest issue of Adoptive Families has a story I wrote in it. The story is just a little, personal reflection on first meeting our little love bug.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Rolling in the Mud

Today was the RICKA planning party and first official paddle of the year. I have been itching to get out for a few months and it seemed like every time the chance came up, I had a conflict. Since I was going to the planning party, I had no conflicts with the paddle except for Bug's swimming class in the morning. I decided, with some difficulty, that I could miss one swimming class and get some stick time. A happier daddy makes for a happier Bug.
The weather has started to take a turn for the better in the last week and it looks like Spring has finally arrived. Too bad it took a hiatus this morning. When PB picked me up this morning it was chilly. By the time we got to Gooseberry Point, it was down right cold and the wind was howling. We seriously considered spending the morning at the Bayside and skipping the paddling. The conditions were not going to make for a pleasant paddle in Buzzards Bay. The wind would make paddling a chore. The chop would make paddling damp. The cold would make you think too hard about taking any risks.
Once others started arriving, a consensus to relocate quickly formed. We moved to Hixbridge Road and the Westport River. This would give us some shelter from the wind at the very least. We could paddle up or down river as we fancied.
We fancied going up river, figuring that it is better to paddle into the wind when you are fresh and let the wind blow you home. The trick with going up river was that the tide was going out and the water levels were dropping.... The initial plan was to just paddle a couple of miles up river, then turn back so we would have plenty of water. If we wanted to keep paddling the lower part of the river would have water longer.
The river did provide good shelter and made for a pleasant paddle. It was actually perfect for me. I was a little tired from yesterdays bike ride. My skills are a little rusty as well. The leisurely pace and flat water made it easy for me to find a rhythm and work the kinks out. The river is also pretty scenic and the company was good, so the slow pace helped there as well.
At some point the group decided that we were going all the way to the end.
"We might as well kiss the rock," someone said while CO was looking for some rational reason for the adventure. I'm not sure what she was thinking. Rationality is a rare commodity among RICKA sea kayakers.
The further up river we went the lower the water got. We spent a lot of time looking for the channel and practicing our turns.
After a quick stop at Osprey Sea Kayak Adventures, we headed back. At first it wasn't too bad. As long as you stayed on the narrow course, you stayed afloat. Every now and then the stick would dredge up some mud, but for the first mile or more it was pretty smooth paddling. Then the mud flats came....
The first time I got stuck wasn't too bad. It was only a few hundred feet of digging the stick into the goop. The second time sucked. It was hundreds of yards of digging through the mud. At points the stick was so useless, that I just used my hands to turtle walk through the mud. I would have gotten out and carried the kayak if I didn't think that I would sunk to my neck in the mud.
Once past the last mud flat, the paddle got much better. The stick stopped dragging in the mud and I could cruise along. By the time I got back to the launch point, most of the mud had washed off the kayak and the paddle.
It wasn't the perfect way to start off the season, but was still better than a day at the office.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Back in the Saddle

I got out for the first ride of the season today. It was a short 10 mile ride, but there was more than enough hills. I also managed to get a good variety of riding conditions in: country roads, bike paths, dirt trail, and major roadways.
The two things I learned on the ride: I am in terrible shape and I really like my bike.
Despite going to the gym regularly all winter long, I was not prepared for riding outside. Nothing new there; I always forget how different it is between riding in the gym and riding in the world. I didn't actually feel that bad, but I did have to keep my pace down to a lowly 12mph.
The good news is that Spring is here and there are many months of prime riding weather ahead!

Monday, February 25, 2013


I like to let my year in review posts marinate for a while before writing them. It provides me some space to process the year as a whole. When I start writing them in January, the holidays haven't had enough time to integrate into the totality. The danger is that life will get in the way of writing, and before I can sit down and write the year in review, I've forgotten half of the year I'm reviewing....
I almost fell into that trap this year, but here it goes.
2012 was a rough year professionally. I didn't lose my job or need to take a pay cut or even live through yet another round of pay cuts. In fact, I got a nice raise and a healthy bonus and my job got more secure. What did happen was that for the first half of the year my company lived under the shadow of an impending sale. The second half of the year was spent adjusting to working for a much bigger company. Both situations made it hard to stay focused and motivated. Before the sale it was a little easier because there was hope that our company would survive as a standalone entity; we would continue to be able to do things our way. After the sale, it was much more difficult. The new parent is a good company, but it is huge and has its own way of doing things. It was particularly hard for me, because in many ways it was a step backwards professionally. I went from essentially running a doc team, to being little more than a cog in a sea of cogs.
Personally 2012 was complicated. My anxiety continued to be an issue. In the early part of the year it was fairly acute. I expended far too much energy worrying that every ache and pain was terminal. Fortunately, I'm pretty good at hiding the anxiety and, hopefully, am not scaring Kenzie for life with it. Amping up the exercise, meditation, and nightly journalling have helped reign the anxiety in, although I do wash my hands way too much.
Aside from the shadow of anxiety, my personal life is excellent. (I think that perversely fuels some of the anxiety... My shrink tends to agree) Heather and I, aside from the normal tensions married couples face around money, chores, and child rearing have a great relationship. We work our way through the issues without yelling, saying things we'd regret, or harboring any lingering anger. It is actually pretty cool to have a partner who accepts your crazy and whose crazy fits nicely with your own.
Kenzie is growing like a weed. She is super tall and pretty coordinated for a two year old. She climbs all over her play yard like a champ and before it started getting to cold was trying to climb on the tree in our yard. Watching her personality develop is fascinating. She is a pretty cautious child; she takes her time checking out new situations; she will explore every part of a new toy. Once she is comfortable, she is all in. I can sit for hours and watch her make cookies, talk on her phone, feed and change her babies. The things she remembers are crazy too. She will mention things from week previous with no context and it will take me a while to figure out exactly what she is talking about. She is usually a pretty good sport when it happens (usually).
One of the most amazing things to me is how as she grows, I need to grow as well. I am constantly faced with situations where I must consider my own biases. Whether it is explaining something to her, teaching her how to do something, or managing her behaviors, I find myself asking myself questions. Explaining things to a 2 year forces my to rethink and distill my understanding of them. When deciding to set a limit, I am always asking myself who is this limit intended to help: is it to make me feel better (or my life easier) or is it for her? I don't always change my mind if it is for me, but at least I'm clear about it.
My extended family grew this year as well. My brother got married and had a second child. My niece also got married and had a child. This is a study in contrasts. Everyone was thrilled for my brother and his new wife. They make a good team and are pretty stable. Most of us were concerned for my niece. She is 20 and bi-polar; her husband is an unemployed high school drop out. We were supportive, because the heart wants what the heart wants. All one can do is be there when family needs help. One never can tell how a story will end....
We got to go on a bunch of good vacations. Kenzie seems to be a goodish traveller. The first night at any new place is rough for her, but I think that is true for most kids. It was definitely true for me. Even when I was staying at my grandparents house, the zillionth time, I had a hard time falling asleep the first night. Fortunately, Kenzie shares our enjoyment of the outdoors and the water. If she didn't it would make vacations much harder.
For 2013, I'm going to continue working on anxiety management. Life is too much fun to waste energy on fear. I'm also going to continue enjoying watching Kenzie grow and relish all of the opportunities it offers me to grow as well. As for work, they wouldn't call it work if it was all fun and games. I am keeping my options open. I keep trying to find ways to make positive changes and at the same time keep my eyes open for new opportunities.