Saturday, February 25, 2006

Sweetwater Kayaks BCU/Greenland Week - Day 0

(General note - for the next few days I will be posting about my trip to Florida. I apologize in advance to non-kayak readers, I am quite likely to be giving extremely free rein to my inner kayak geek)

First night in Florida - Dubside demonstrates Greenlandic hypnotism techniques.

Day 0 – Monday, Feb. 20
This was primarily a getting there & setting up day, no boats, but plenty of fun once all the hassle of getting there was out of the way! I got to Tampa around 2, got the car, dropped by the Sweetwater Kayaks shop to buy a hood & camp stove fuel, then by a grocery store (a bewilderingly large one to one who’s accustomed to NYC’s more compact grocery stores!) for food for the week, then (after a little frustration with a crappy rent-a-car street map that was fine for sorting out what general direction I needed to go but quite sketchy on details – I was following the highway I needed to be following it in the direction in which I needed to be going but instead of being on it I was weaving back and forth under the underpasses until I finally stumbled across an onramp, as I’d figured I would if I just stuck to driving in the vicinity of the highway long enough) on to Ft. DeSoto to pick my campsite (found a nice one sort of set back from the common area where everyone congregated, but not so far back in the woods that I’d be having turf issues with the rattlesnakes the pre-symposium newsletter warned us about) & pitch camp.

Settled in & ready for the next few days, I joined a group watching Dubside give his first of many demos of Qajaasaarneq, Greenland rope gymnastics. That's really whoat's going on in the picture at the start of this post - the rope exercises are hypnotic to watch, but they were actually developed as a technique for staying in good shape over the long cold Greenland winters, and are also used as a learning tool to help prepare youngsters to learn how to roll. These exercises are one of the events at the annual Greenland kayaking championships.

I’ve watched him do this before, of course, but this time it became an open session as the other instructors started trying their hand at it – at the other events where I’ve watched ropes demos, it was either Dubside by himself, or Dubside and one or two of the other really serious Greenland people, but this time people who’d never tried it before were jumping up & trying things. It started with the instructors, who were all strong, physically confident people & keen to try this new game; Dubside would demonstrate one & make it look easy & graceful, then one of the BCU instructors would give it a shot, with varying degrees of success but always laughing; eventually the students started joining in too (although that happened more on the following days).

I waited until the crowd had thinned before trying a couple myself – ever since the first time I saw this done at the Hudson River Greenland Festival a couple of years ago, I been dying to give this a shot, although it does look a little scary as there’s no padding to fall on. One nice thing about watching the instructors “learning the ropes” (oh, dear, I am so, so, so sorry, I should have left that pun unwritten) on the ropes though was that I was able to zero in on a couple that were both described as simpler and clearly kept you horizontal on the ropes - I was very interested in not falling on my head before I’d even had a chance to get in a boat, but these ones I was confident that I would at least not hurt myself if I screwed ‘em up. I got a couple, I failed a couple, it was fascinating to finally TRY these things I’ve seen & see how it feels. I can’t speak to the higher-point ones but for the basic ones I tried, if you could get your body to the right position, gravity & the laws of physics did the rest of the work – very much like rolling a kayak, really - but it took a certain amount of strength & coordination to get your body to the right position. It’s funny, the ones I couldn’t get, I’m really not sure which of those two components I was missing, or if I was a little shy of what I needed in both.

Dinner was provided by Sweetwater; Jean & company made up some big tubs of ziti and salad. That was a nice surprise when I’d gone assuming that participants were on their own as far as feeding themselves, and in fact if I do this again next year I’ll lighten up on the dinner groceries ‘cause people were going out every night – I only actually cooked one dinner for myself in camp. The evening wrapped up with drinks around the fire (drinks like, um, hot cocoa, yeah, and grape juice, in keeping with the regulations of the youth camp that was used for BCU/Greenland week, naturally ;D). I decided to turn in pretty early; even though Nigel Foster himself told me that I couldn’t possibly go to bed yet because it wasn’t even one o’ clock yet, and even though it would have been so much fun to stay up & just listen to the instructors talk story (which, as I understand it, is maybe not HALF the fun of attending a symposium, but a solid chunk thereof), I was feeling like I’d had enough of a day. The next day’s classes were scheduled to start at 9:00 and I wanted to be awake for that! Fell asleep to the sounds of insects, laughter drifting from the campfire & the dripping of condensation falling from the palmettos.

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