Friday, November 02, 2018

Autumn Gales

Greg Paquin has run the Autumn Gales for 10 years now and this is the second time I’ve gone. The main event is three days with plenty of opportunities to get top notch instruction in conditions. Greg gets world class coaches from both the local area and England.
Both of the times I’ve gotten to attend, I have only done a single day out of the three. I have also always managed to attend on days where the conditions are borderline crazy. Today the forecast called for 15-20knt winds with gusts to 30knts, rain, and big swells. There was also a chance of thundershowers. The wife thought I was a wee nuts. I was thinking it was perfect for some adventure.
After a quick briefing we headed out to the breakwater. It provided a nice place wher we duck out of the wind for chatting with the coaches and then head back out into the wind and swells to practice boat skills. I was with Greg and Pete Jones from the UK for coaches. They had us practicing turns into the wind. We practiced different strategies like using short quick strokes at the bow to pin it down and allow the wind to blow the stern around; using forward and reverse sweeps to pivot. We experimented with what paddle positions worked best to turn up wind and turn down wind. There was plenty of wind to practice with and three to four foot swells to make things more fun.
We also practiced surfing swells and paddling in following seas. Greg helped me figure out why I have so much trouble keeping the Aries from breaching in surf. One problem is that I always go straight for a stern rudder, which is not effective and because of how I turn in the boat to place the rudder, causes the Aries to turn even more. He suggested using sweep strokes instead.
He also noticed that I tended to lean forward when I catch a wave and that when I lean forward I arm paddle. Basically, instinct takes over and ruins my form. I have probably been doing it forever and never noticed; the Q-boat was far less maneuverable than the Aries. Greg’s expert coaching was a big bonus.
It was a hard day on the water. I was exhausted at the end of the day - in a great way. If I can only get out once in a while, it has to be worth it. This definitely was.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Third Beach

Paddles from third beach are always fun. No matter which way you go there is challenges. Today we choose to go south so to avoid the wind. That meant more swells, but less rocks.
The group had a lot of new faces. However, Carleen was on the paddle which was great since I think it was the first time I had paddled with her in two years.
I knew it was a level three paddle, but I didn't expect quite as much action. Going out we had plenty of wind and some good swells. We paddled over towards Salve and did our best to avoid the reef waves. They were pretty crazy. Water was coming from all directions.
On the way back we got some chances to play in the rocks. The swells were calmer, but there was plenty of action to have fun.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Rocks and Surf

Who doesn’t like a chance to bang around some rocks and do a bit of surfing? It had been a long, long time since I had the chance to use push the Aries and my abilities, so I grabbed the chance when a rockapalooza paddle was posted.
It was mostly geared as an intermediate introduction to rock and surf play, but that is where I am at these days....
The weather was perfect: sunny, but not too warm. The sea state was good for a low key day, but less than what I was hoping for....
The group made its way out of the harbor and towards our first formation: the lighthouse. Mostly, we worked on feeling comfortable getting in close to the rocks and holding our positions. It was pretty basic stuff, but it was fun and a nice reminder of the good old days when I could get out and do that stuff every weekend.
As the morning progressed, we moved from rock formation to rock formation. Each time things got progressively more interesting. The sea state was calm enough that chances of mayhem were low. We all got to makes some fun and challenging passes over ledges and spend time hanging out in washing machines.
Cam managed to find the one rouge swell while trying to pass over a rock ledge. He did an admirable job trying to stay in the kayak, but it proved impossible. Fortunately, Gary was on station to execute a near perfect rescue. The situation, and the execution, would have made a good instructional video.
After lunch we played in what little surf we could find. Tim made sure to point out the rocky area we should avoid while surfing. Of course, it was also the area with the most predictable and fun waves....
Catching waves was a little frustrating, but most people caught some nice rides.
I was a having a hard time, because I forget how sensitive the Aries is to body position. I would catch a wave and out of shear muscle memory immediately turn my body to put in a stern rudder. In the Q-boat, that was just what you needed to do to have any hope of riding the wave straight. In the Aries, as soon as I turned my body to put the rudder in, the boat turned on the wave. I’d go from riding the wave face, to getting pushed sideways, to eventually spinning off the wave.
I did catch one good ride, over in the rocks that we were told to avoid.... When I went to turn off the wave, however, I mistimed releasing the brace and flipped. I considered rolling up, but I could feel the bottom - too shallow. I popped out and planned to push the kayak out of the rocks and surf, then assess the best way to get back in the boat. When I came up another paddler asked me if I wanted to do the rescue right there. I should have waved them off and followed my plan. The waves were pretty consistent and the rocks were close... Instead, I waffled. The other paddler tried to line up to do the rescue but ended up point bow first at my head as a wave started to crest. I duck dived to avoid a mashed mellon. When I came back up for air, things got more confusing....
Another paddler showed up and thought I was going to just swim the kayak into the nearby beach. They even offered me a ride. Another wave came in and I lost my grip on their kayak. Next thing I know, my kayak is getting towed out to sea, so I grab onto the bow toggle.
Eventually, all the communication issues got squared away, and I got back into my kayak. Fortunately for all involved it was a pretty mellow day, so the danger was minimal. It was a good lesson in why communication in rescues is important, how different paddlers can assess conditions very differently, and why it is important for a swimmer to be an active participant in their rescue.
Back in the harbor, I practiced a few rolls just to keep them from going away. At coffee, we all debriefed on the rescue. Debriefing is important and also another window into how different paddlers can assess things differently.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Two Star Redux

When the BCU 2 star class was offered so late in the season, after what looked like a paddle scheduled for paddlers that needed 3 stars or better to participate, I scoffed.
Then I realized that for me, and probably at least a few other paddlers in RICKA, a day on the water getting some coaching from two excellent coaches, was a great opportunity.
I had been on the water more times this years than I had last year, but I knew I was rusty and could use a good tune up. I also remembered the first time I took the 2 star class and was a little too cocky to get anything out of it....
Greg and Paula had Tim II and Brenda assisting them. They were great as coaches in training. I spent the morning with Paula and Brenda. We worked on basic strokes.
I felt a little guilty having an Aries. It makes all of the turning strokes look easy. Most of the other paddlers in the group were in longer, straighter traditional sea touring kayaks. I still needed to control the kayak, so that was something.
In the afternoon we switched lead trainers. I was with Greg. He worked on fine tuning. We talked about things like using seating position to adjust trim. We also worked on using all four quadrants to maneuver the kayak for the proper conditions. We also worked on edging and reverse paddling.
It was an excellent tune up session. I would totally do it again next season just for the pointers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Mt. Desert 2018

This was our second year at Mt. Desert Campground. It really is a great spot and our site across from the docks is perfect.
Our site does not have a direct water view, but it more than makes up for it in other amenities. It is large, has power, is relatively private, has parking with space for the trailer, and is just across the road from the docks. Oh, it also has two trees that are perfect for hanging a hammock.
This year was more laid back than last year. We stayed an extra two days and after last year, we felt less pressure to knock things off of the list. We still wanted to be active everyday and had a rough list, but things just didn't feel as rushed.
After the first morning, we gave up on coffee making. The campgrounds gathering spot has excellent coffee and pastries every morning. Bug and I loved the pastries and the coffee was way better than anything we were going to make at the camp site. So, every morning a pilgrimage was made for sugary carbs and coffee.
Unlike last year, I managed to get out kayaking every morning. It was the perfect way to start the day. The top of Somes Sound is protected and easy paddling. It also happens to be packed full of wild life. Everyday brought new surprises. One day it was seals; another day it was porpoises; another day it was eagles. Just an hour or two in the morning made the whole day brighter.
We also discovered the joy of the free island shuttles. It made getting into and out of the park much easier. We didn't have to struggle to find parking at the most crowded spots in the park. It also had the added bonus of forcing us to stop in Bar Harbor center for ice cream.
Our only "required" activity was the traditional hike up Gorham Mt. to collect blue berries. The hike also involves a visit to Thunder Hole. At the beginning of the hike there was not so much thunder, but when we returned the hole was in good form. The hike also includes me trying, unsuccessfully, to convince H to let Bug and I do the Beehive trail. Hopefully, I will wear her down before I get too old to manage the Beehive....
We also did another nice hike from Echo Lake to the summit of Beech Mountain. H had planned out a nice short hike from the Beech Mt. trailhead and then figured we could drive down to Echo Lake beach for a nice dip. Then I looked at the map.... I found a route from the Echo Lake parking lot to the summit that looked easy peasy and only added a mile or so to the hike. It was another reminder that I should not be allowed to plan hikes. My addition to the hike did save us the hassle of parking twice, but it made for a much more challenging hike. It doubled the elevation and length of the hike. I like to think it added some nice extra views and made the swimming that much sweeter...
For biking we rode the Eagle Lake loop. We choose it because it offered some nice views and was recommended by the guide books as being good for kids. The guide book was spot on. The trail has a gradual climb along the east side of the lake followed by a nice descent back to the parking lot. At six miles, it is just long enough to be a challenge, but not too long. Everyone enjoyed the ride. Bug got a little speed happy on the descent and she and I ended up leaving H in the dust for part of the ride. We need to work on the whole making sure the group stays together thing...
H and Bug took the Island Explorer back to Bar Harbor. I decided to return to the center via Witch Hole Pond. The beginning of the ride was nice and flat until I hit the road. The last part of the ride into down was on the roads. The first stretch of road was an epic down hill on a closed road. Then I road into town along the water front. It was a nice little addition to the ride.
The family kayaking trip was short. The day we were supposed to paddle, Bug and I had a hard time getting our acts together. To H's chagrin, we didn't get onto the water until well after lunch. We managed to get out of the campground's cove and maybe a mile down the coast before it was time to turn back. Bug is not a huge kayaker and a sit-on-top is not an ideal platform for cold water kayaking.  Despite the short distance, we had a nice time.
Even the only hiccup on the trip turned out to be a blessing in surprise. Unbeknownst to us, our cell plan, which has unlimited on-network data, caps roaming data. While T-Mobile has great coverage in a lot of places, Maine is not one of those places. I burned through my roaming data on the drive up between maps and streaming music. H burned through hers shortly after I did. So, we spent most of the week off the grid. We could squeeze in bits of internet at the Gathering Place's wi-fi when we were desperate. Being off the grid was a nice break from the constant barrage of bad news.
The whole vacation was refreshing and rejuvenating. So much so, that we booked the same site for next year.

The Hut Hike of Doom

When Bug was old enough to start doing longer hikes, we came up with a plan to hike to all of the AMC huts with H's Dad. He worked at the huts when he was in college and has spent 60 years hiking the whites.

The plan was to start easy and then work our way up in a smooth progression as Bug got older. It was a great plan except that we didn’t account for how aging works. Bug is speeding up way faster than we planned for and H’s Dad, while he can still kick my butt on the trail, is slowing down faster than we planned.
For this years hike we decided to skip a level and do Greenleaf Hut. H's dad said it was difficult but not too bad. When I looked at the trail description and saw that included a stretch called the three miseries, I should have doubted his recollection....
It had rained a lot in the days leading up to the hike, so that didn’t help trail conditions and eliminated  one of our routes up (I doubt that route would have been much easier).
The trail started out nice it was steep, but not too bad. It quickly transitioned into sections of fairly steep climbs with brief interludes less steep sections. We all, except Bug, realized that we may have bitten off more than we could chew. We trooped on though. I figured we were in the misery section and then things would level out; front loading the pain is always better than the opposite.
Then we got above tree line and H's Dad said we were entering the miseries.... They are steep rocky sections that involve climbing up chutes of smooth rock.
I'm not sure which was harder: the physical work of climbing or the mental energy required in managing an eight year old, an anxious wife, two older climbers, and my own sanity....
Everybody did a great job. Bug's only problem was her fear of dogs that caused her to panic when a dog showed up on the trail. Fortunately she is a strong enough climber that she could get herself out of the way without putting herself into too much danger. H's Dad and wife climbed like old pros. They were slow and steady. H did her best to just focus on getting up the mountain. I did the same.
The ridge line is beautiful. The day was clear and one could see for miles. It was also steep on the sides, so it required caution. By the time we hit the ridge we, except for Bug, were close to spent.
The hut itself is nice. It is a small clearing in a notch just below the peak of Lafayette. There is not much there except for the hut, but that is enough.
H was a little bummed that we were not going to hike to the peak because we were pooped. I told her I was game; we had already done the worst part. She stood her ground and we did not do the summit. The voice of reason may not be fun, but it is usually correct.
Amazingly, Bug found a playmate at the hut. There was a boy about her age that was as into gymnastics as she was. They spent the remainder of the afternoon doing tricks on any flat patch of grass they could find.
H spent a lot of time researching easier routes back to the parking lot. Her Dad spent some time napping. I spent the time just hanging out watching the child, reading, and chatting.
The huts are always great places to hangout.
Over dinner there was some half-joking talk about how this might be the last hut hike for the group. The exertion and climbing was a little much for H's Dad.
H's extensive research made it clear that the easiest way down, given the trail conditions, was the same way we had come up.
The next morning, with some trepidation, we headed back down. The trail seemed easier on the way down. Then came the rocky patches....
The patches were just as steep and slippery, but going down felt much more treacherous. Going with gravity adds to the sense that one can fall and crash into the rocks or other people or over the edge and into the abyss.
We all took it slowly and made it down to the forested patches of the trail that were more manageable.
By the time we got back to the cars were tired, but not exhausted. There was talk of which hut to try next summer....

Sunday, July 29, 2018

REIing it in the San Juans

For the big 50, I wanted to do a big adventure. I also wanted to include the family. After a lot of research, I decided on the REI Adventures San Juan Islands Family Trip. It included some glamping, some biking, some hiking, and, most importantly, kayaking.
I was having some kidney stone issues leading up to the trip. The last surgery was the day before we got on the plane to Seattle. I triple checked with my surgeon to make sure I was cleared for travel and he gave me the OK. The flight was not the most comfortable, but after three rounds of getting stones pulled out of your kidneys you get used to it.
The morning after we landed in Seattle, we got on the ferry out to Friday Harbor. It was a long, beautiful ride.
In Friday Harbor we met our guides and the other family on the trip, had a nice lunch, and visited the whale museum. The whale museum is a small place but it has some cool exhibits and a ton of information about the local Orca population.
After that we crossed the island for an afternoon paddle. We split up into double kayaks. H and I paired up and Bug went with one of the guides. The paddling was nice and easy. We sauntered out of the harbor and among some small islands. On the outer edge of the islands, we spotted some Orcas in the distance. We spent quite some time sitting in a bull kelp bed watching the whales in the distance. After the whales, the paddle back to the harbor and the ice cream were anticlimactic.
The accommodations for our first two nights were luxurious canvas tents with big fluffy beds and hand delivered bed warmers. They were spectacular, but nowhere near as nice as our typical camping accommodations. It was more like being in a hotel room than camping.
The second day of the trip was a cycling trip to a local Orca watching hot spot. H was feeling queasy and decided to take a pass, so it was just Bug and I. Bug got her first taste of riding a big 24" bike and was a champ. The guides let the group get really spread out, so Bug and I spent most of the time cruising along together at a nice pace and enjoying the scenery. About a third of the way through, about 8 miles in, Bug started getting a little bored and wanted to stop. However, the guides had promised that there was a sweet downhill followed by a beautiful view, so she kept going.
It felt like it took forever, but the view was worth it. We crested a hill, came out of a wooded stretch, and we're greeted with a wide open vista of the ocean. At the bottom of the hill, one of the guides directed over to the rocks where we could watch a pod of Orca's playing in the distance.
The rest of the afternoon was pretty relaxed. We had a picnic lunch, played on the rocks, did a short hike, and gorged on some ice cream.
By the time we got back to camp, H was feeling a little better and was able to join us for dinner and some swimming.
The third and forth days of the trip were the most exciting for me. We took a kayak camping trip over to one of the smaller islands. The guides packed up all the gear into several tanks. There were three doubles and two triples.
Before lunch, Bug paddled with one of the guides and H and I took a triple with gear in the middle hatch. Getting H and I's kayak moving was a struggle, but once it was moving it was surprisingly easy to keep going. I used the rudder for steering; it was just too big and heavy to turn with just a paddle. H was still not 100%, so I did most of the work. The paddling was easy going and the pace was low key. We did one big crossing.
Lunch was on a little beach about half way to our camp. The beach was lovely; the lunch was a bit of fail though - spicy Thai wraps. H and Bug spent some time sleeping on the beach. I scheduled a follow up to my kidney stone procedure.
After lunch, Bug and H switched. Bug did some paddling, but was mostly my radio. She did do a pretty good stint as a solo motor. We did fall behind a bit, but that was no big deal since we were almost at camp and there was plenty to see.
The island camp was nice. We had decent MSR tents, mummy bags, and sleeping pads. There was also a nice pavilion in the center of our spot. The island had these funky red trees that were cold to the touch.
The paddle back to San Juan Island was uneventful. Bug insisted on paddling the tank by herself when we started out. She did a surprising good job of keeping up with the group when we started out.  We we not leading the pack, but we were keeping up. When it came time to do the crossing, I did have to kick some support. Once we made the crossing, Bug ran out of gas and went back to being the radio and lookout. We got a nice laugh when we noticed that the youngster in the other tripple was taking a snooze.
After we unpacked the kayaks, we took an ice cream break on the docks. Then we headed for our luxury cabins for the night. The cabins were plush. Bug took the upstairs loft and we got a very cozy bedroom. Before dinner, the kids got a chance to swim in the pond and play some games. Bug took a dip in the hot tub.
Dinner was a basic affair, but we were promised a special desert. The desert fell a little bit short, but the views more than made up for it. The guides took us out to a point to watch a spectacular sunset.
The final day of the trip was a whale watch. The boat was smallish, so there were no bad seats. The captain did a great job of finding whales. We saw a lot of Orcas and a few other types of whales. The best part was seeing several spy hops.
The ferry ride home was extra-long. The original ferry we were supposed to take broke down, so we were delayed in leaving. Then instead of going back into Seattle, we landed an hour north of the city and had to be bussed back. Fortunately, the ferry was comfortable and the views pretty great.
Our last few days in Seattle were spent hanging out in the city with H's cousin. We did the obligatory gum wall, Pikes Place, Space Needle tour. We also did the obligatory REI trip.
The best parts of Seattle were hanging out. H's cousin has a giant trampoline in the back yard where Bug spent hours bouncing and flipping. One of the neighbors has a great dog the Bug spent time playing catch with and "training". There was even a local pool for an afternoon lounge.
It was a great trip. The REI guides did a great job of keeping the group entertained - particularly the kids.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

First Paddle of the Year

This is our traditional kick off the summer camping trip in Freeport. We always get nice water sites and mostly just relax.
I had only one real goal for the trip - getting out for a paddle. We brought all of the kayaks, so as many people as wanted to go with me could join in the fun. However, I really just wanted a little time alone on the water....
The weather was not great. It was a little windy, but otherwise clear. Since I was going solo (which is never advisable), H made me promise to stick close to shore. I mostly followed her wishes.
I paddled up the coast into Freeport Harbor and just got my sea legs back underneath me. I spent a lot of time playing with different strokes, different edges, different trim positions. It was nice.
After hugging the coast for a bit, I decided to make a short crossing out to some nearby islands. There was a little chop, but nothing that bothered me. I was mostly just looking to feel like I was ocean paddling. It was nice and recharging.
When I got back, the kids were playing in the mud and getting ready to head over to the beach. I managed to talk Bug and her friend into paddling around the point to the beach with me. It was her friends first time doing a solo paddle. Both girls did great until we landed on the beach. It was low tide, so there was a long slog through the mud to get to the beach proper.
There was no way the girls were getting back in the kayaks. Fortunately one of Bug's other friends, who also had never paddled solo, was willing to trudge through the mud and give paddling a go. He did a great job once we got him to stop slouching and flip the paddled the right way.
It wasn't exciting, but it was a nice way to get back on the water.