Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Saturday "boring paddle"

It was so beautiful outside this morning, I wish I could've played hooky from work. It wasn't windy, and trees had all their branches lined in white. There's a house across the street with a big evergreen of some sort -- it was so heavy with snow, it was sort of leaning into the house --looked for all the world like a big, tired person. It would've been the perfect day to put on fleecy clothing & curl up on the couch with a book. Oh well.

As usual, as the weekend recedes, the disappointments are balancing out with the good things about it. Posting Sunday night was like standing with my nose against a wall - all I could see was the wall. Walk away from it, looking over your shoulder every now and then, and you'll gradually see more and more of what's behind it. Eventually the wall just becomes one little detail in a larger scene.

Besides, I had a good exchange with one of the students, told her I'd heard really good things about Grace Under Pressure, gave her links some other rolling info including a link to Cheri Perry's website, website where there's good underwater footage of Greenland rolling plus galleries of her trip to the Greenland championships last August(she's great - I wish I had some way to get up to the sessions where she teaches more but this is the sort of thing where not having a car is a problem - the bad hasn't yet outweighed the good, yet, though - no insurance, no gas, no parking hassles, there's much to like about being carless!). Plus I've been thinking about how long it took ME to learn to roll - a long time & a lot of work - plus a friend also sent some encouraging words. So I'm getting a little less mopey.

Saturday's paddle really was nice. It started out being a trip to Edgewater for Japanese food (I'm now hoping for that to happen on a larger scale on the 12th, fingers crossed & the weather gods permitting -- I have two words for Punxatawney Phil right now - "en brochette"!) but then we scaled it back a bit. This was partly because I'm always happy to sleep in a little more, and partly because "Kayak Boy" (his wife's very appropriate nickname for him) was getting back on the water for the first time since November. He had sort of a run of health problems last year, the last being a shoulder injury that took some time to recover from. In a situation like that, it's generally smarter to keep things pretty open-ended & not push things too far. Work out the kinks, then go for a destination once you're confident it's going to hold up OK.

Plus did I mention I was happy to sleep in a little more? Oh yeah. Think I did.

So instead of a trip for sushi, we did what I sometimes refer to as a "Boring Paddle".

I paddle with a very enthusiastic group of strong paddlers. The old New York Harbor standbys - like the Statue of Liberty, the George Washington Bridge, or the Palisades - got kind of boring for one of them last year - I'll call him Drum Guy - & he started organizing these crazy long camping trips. One perfect example was a trip to the Norwalk Islands in Connecticut. They paddled there from Pier 63 at 23rd Street in Manhattan.

In one shot.

I never went on those. I was working on the schooner on most Saturdays last summer, and that's hard enough physical work that on days I wasn't doing that I somehow couldn't get enthusiastic about a marathon paddle. Sounded a little too much like more work.

So I jokingly started calling my less ambitious day jaunts "Boring Paddles". In other words, a paddle with no particular destination, no stops on route, a definite start time and a somewhat less definite finish time.

Personally, I love paddles like this. I do them so often, and I'm so familiar with the water you can cover in a 3 or 4 hour paddle, that I almost find it to be like a ritual. Packing up the gear, dressing, arranging the first aid kit, hot thermos, and other possible requirements in the usual order in the day hatch - it's almost like a tea ceremony (well...ok maybe not quite). Then setting out onto that familiar water. Rounding the corner of the condemned old piershed at Pier 64 on Saturday, I found myself thinking of how familiar that building has become to me, and how strange it's going to be when the Hudson River Park Trust starts to work in our section and starts tearing the old stuff down.

I'll miss the old ghost. From the water, there was something about it. I must remember to take some pictures of it before it goes like one of the two "melted piers" -- the skeletal remnants of two piers that burned years ago, their metal girders melting and twisting and sagging from the heat, resolidifying in a tangled, slumping mass as they cooled -- up in the 60's did a while back, amazingly quickly. A construction barge came in one day, and then it was gone and so was the pier. Surprised how long the other one's lasted - wonder if someone gave it a stay of execution?

Five of us set out at noon. We were hoping for a snow paddle - there were some little flurries as we were all heading for the pier - but no such luck. It was a little on the chilly side, but not too bad. We launched at noon, a couple of hours after high water, close to slack (tides are sort of weird here - most places the tide comes in, the current runs one way, the water goes up, then the tide starts going out, the current goes the other way, the water goes down - not here, nope, nothing that rational - I'm not even going to try to explain it right now but "a couple of hours after high water, close to slack" is not a goof, that's how it works around here!). We had a bit of a breeze from the southwest. I felt a little rusty - been doing a lot of pool time, but that's not the same as actually putting water behind your boat. And I always fight with all the stuff I have to wear, and the less winter paddling I do the more I feel constricted by the layers and the drysuit and the gloves. It takes me a while to warm up, relax & quit fighting all my winter gear. I have good paddling companions, they just laugh at me as I whine about gaskets & strangulation & stuff while we suit up. Better than not paddling in the wintertime though, which is the other option (not dressing right is of course not an option).

Think I wasn't the only one who was a little stiff.

But eventually we got loosened up. As the ebb started to pick up & we started to get wind-driven swells coming north, our boats started in on some frisky little surfs. Fun! I paddle a Romany, which is a boat that gets very happy in a following sea - a lot of boats get really squirrely under those conditions, forget everything they know about traveling in a straight line, but a Romany just catches everything & the spray starts flying up from under the bow, and it just feels great. I could've kept going for another hour, but "KayakBoy" is a smart guy & a good paddler and even though he was having lots of fun with the surfing too, he was keeping in mind that he was testing out a shoulder, and that that tailwind that was making such nice little swells was also going to be something we'd be tussling with on the way home. So a little bit south of Grant's Tomb, it was "Southward ho!".

Well - that's when things got really neat in my opinion.

The breeze wasn't too bad, although definitely there & against us. We had a nice current with us, and it was choppy, and I like the feeling of my boat slicing through the waves. And the light - there are certain days in New York Harbor when there are dark clouds in the sky, with the sun breaking through in nice dramatic Cecil B.DeMilles Biblical Epic rays, and the water gets lit up with sparkles to where it’s all silver, and brighter than the sky - this was one of those days.

And then we got to the garbage barge pier (sorry, you only get so much poetry in urban paddling, then you come to a garbage barge pier), and we waited while a tug & barge came out - and then we waited again while the barge & tugboat turned a tight circle - and then we kept waiting while they did another one - and then Kayak Boy said "He's doing doughnuts" which cracked me up.

Finally, a seagull took a liking to us and followed us for quite some time. Opinions as to why ranged from "He likes us" to "He thinks Drum Guy's hat would make a nice nest" to "He's taking aim!"

No rolling at the end, would've been tempted except that I was noseplugless & wasn’t sure how much I'd enjoy a snootful of 38 degree water, plus I wanted to mess around with the lines on the dock, a couple of which were chafing, & didn't want to be any colder than I already was while doing that - Drum Guy refrained too (that was a surprise, he's quite a bit crazier than I am about such things, I'm a big ol' whuss next to him) & we kept the end-of-paddle play session to a little side sculling and stuff.

Sort of got the dock squared away but like I said on Sunday, not really well. We’ll see how it's holding out next week.

Afterwards, we all ended up going to my favorite noodle shop, Noodle Corner - good food, quick, and inexpensive, Mrs. Kayak Boy (see, D, now you are stuck being Mrs. Kayak Boy, you shouldn't have told me about the nickname!) joined us, and we talked about our paddle, and barge doughnuts, and The Gates (we had both fans - the guy who organized the 2 night walks last week, and RS, who's an artist & was able to explain why she liked them in a wonderfully eloquent way - & detractors - neither Drum Guy or KayakBoy were impressed - so that was fun) and Gates spoof sites (that's where I got "The Crackers", the subject of "Go Ye Forth and Laugh") & a lot of other stuff, and we laughed really hard & utterly mystified the other patrons of the place with our mountains of gear!

Yep. It was a good one.

And y'know what?

There are no boring paddles...

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