Friday, February 21, 2020

Florida Day 3 Continued: Myakka River Tram Ride

My sister on the tram


After the chilly boat ride on Lake Myakka, my sister and TQ and I met up with my folks and Belle the dog. The three of us had reservations for the 2:30 tram ride (no dogs allowed on either the boat or the tram, so my folks weren't participating in those), but after a quick discussion we decided to change to the 12:30 tour, so we wouldn't have to keep a close eye on the time over lunch and birdwatching. One definite bonus to visiting the Myakka River State Park on such a chilly day - it may have meant most the lake alligators had said "See you later", but it was definitely easier to get on the tours you wanted. If you're ever visiting this park on a nicer day, you definitely need to get there early to get on those.

We'd been there exactly one week too early for the tram the year before, and my folks were disappointed because they'd really enjoyed that on earlier visits to their Florida friends. I'm not sure why our timing changed this year but again, this was a bonus to that. This park is one of Florida's largest, hhere's a lot to see and a variety of beautiful Florida environments. Our tour guide knew so much about the various areas she took us through, and she did a great job of taking the local history and biology and weaving it into a well-imagined story of what you would have found here and done here if you were an early settler.

She also found us more alligators - we drove into a Wilderness Area (with a sign with multiple warnings and rules and also vultures circling hopefully overhead) and shortly found ourselves in a sheltered swampy area. This turned out to be a popular nursery for the mother alligators, who are very protective of their babies and take very good care of them.

We also saw one deer - TQ was able to get a photo of her with his phone, I was still fumbling with my zoom lens when she left, but here was TQ's photo.



Before we went into the wilderness area, we drove past a floodplain - dry in the wintertime, it floods in the spring and there's a beautiful explosion of flowers. After the alligators, we drove on through woods and prairie, learning about saw palmettoes (which will cut you up if you run through them) and sabal palms (whose hearts are edible, nicknamed "swamp cabbage", and from what the guide was saying, pretty yummy), and the lichens and air plants that carpeted the bark of the trees, and the wildlife for whom this is home (our guide pointed out a pig trap, and we'd seen some pigs during the boat ride - pigs were brought to Florida by the Spanish explorers in the 1500's and thrived; the park has to work very hard to keep them under control). Even the Spanish moss dangling from the trees got into the story, as harvesting the stuff was one way of making a living in this area. Cattle also provided a livelihood, and in fact before the park became a park it had been a ranch - you can read a short history at the website I linked to in the first paragraph.

I'm so glad we got to do this this time, it was a very interesting tour by a very knowledgeable local.

Note later: It's bothering me as I think about this post how there's no mention of the people who lived here before the Europeans came. The nature of the tour guide's narrative wasn't a complete history lecture, she was focusing on what it would have been like to be a certain person living here at a certain time - but to add in that older history, this was originally the territory of the Calusa

All photos after this - click on any of them for a slide show view.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Presidents' Day Paddle 2020 - With Seals!

I couldn't have asked for a better kickoff for my local 2020 paddling year! I do have a little more Florida to share, including my 2nd and 3rd paddles of the year (no pix from the 3rd but it was very similar to the 2nd), but the Presidents' Day Paddle I called for was so spectacular, I have to share a few pix now.

Took a while to get to this first paddle out of Sebago - 2020 had so far been teasing us year-round paddlers with lovely paddling weather on work days and weekends of high winds and/or heavy rain. I have been heading for work wanting to play hooky so many times this year, but we finally had a day off coinciding with wonderful weather. Hooray!

Forecast was for temperatures in the mid to high 40's, and winds...well, as shown above. Sweet, huh? I put out the suggestion to gather at the club at 10, launch at 11, and head out to Ruffle Bar to check in on the seals we've been seeing out there regularly this winter. I had a number of "oooh sounds great but..." emails but by Saturday night I had a couple of friends interested - and what fun, it ended up being the ROMANY GALS (won'tcha come out today, and dance in the sun on the bay)!

It's a little silly but I do just love the look of multiple Romany kayaks out on the water together, plus Chris and Lori are just lovely people to paddle with. Lori's actually gotten a Rebel kayak that she mostly paddles these days, but she still has her pretty powder-blue-decked Romany, and with the Rebel being a lower-volume boat, and winter gear (even on a nice day) being pretty bulky, she decided to bring that one. So that was a silly little thing that I was gleeful about! 


The air was so clear we had beautiful views of the Manhattan skyline - Chris took this one, I took a similar one of her and Lori, and then after the photo break we headed on to Ruffle Bar.


Beautiful wispy clouds and reflections - 

And then when we got out to Ruffle Bar, we couldn't quite figure out what was going on on the sandbar here. We've gotten accustomed to seeing one or two seals hauled out here on the sandbar - this turned out to be six seals all snuggled up together in the sun. Unfortunately, because we weren't understanding what we were seeing, we got a little too close and it became six seals stampeding for the sea. :( 
As we were watching the seals, we saw another paddler approaching - he had a good forward stroke and we were expecting it to be someone else from the club, but it turned out to be a Manhattan-based paddler who owns a Pakboat and can jump on the city's ferry system when he feels like seeing someplace new. He's actually friends with 3 other Sebago paddlers who were formerly at New York Kayak at Pier 40 on the Hudson (boy do I miss having that shop so handy) but was just out exploring on his own, launching from the Rockaway Peninsula (possibly at the suggestion of Johna at Wind Against Current). As we were chatting with him and watching the seals head back towards the sandbar, another strong paddler came into view from the south side of Ruffle Bar - this did turn out to be a clubmate, Derrick, who'd decided to join us only left home too late to make our launch time. He actually saw us paddling out of the basin just as he arrived - we didn't see him but he's a fast paddler and our pause at Ruffle Bar was long enough for him to catch us. 
After a couple more minutes, we said goodbye to the visitor and the seals. My original suggestion had been to just go around Ruffle Bar, but we all seemed to be veering off towards the east side of Canarsie Pol, and when I suggested we could go around that, too, everyone agreed. 9.2 miles and just as nice as we could've hoped for. Lovely, lovely start for my NYC paddling year!

BTW, if you enjoyed these and are a glutton for er I mean and you'd like to see a few more photos, and in slightly better quality, I've put up a Flickr album. Click here to visit.  





Friday, February 14, 2020

A ramble on rolling!


Rolling with joy, summer 2010, photo by Joan Byron



WARNING! EXPLOSION OF KAYAK GEEKERY!

Posted this yesterday on Facebook - figured I'd share here too as it ended up being more of an essay than planned, plus I can add some links here. I'd meant to talk about having a good time at a pool session and somehow that morphed into telling my entire personal history of rolling!
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So, back in one of those crazy times at work but quite buoyed by thinking back on the rolling session to which I treated myself on Sunday. Been weirdly on the fence about writing about it but an old friend called me "the ballerina of kayakers" on FB today, which was SO sweet and also EXACTLY what I'm trying to work my way back to these days (see above photo from 2010, which just captures how rolling feels to me when I'm rolling well - I LOVE this shot!)

I didn't roll for a while after my mastectomy for kind of obvious reasons. 1st roll after that went fine. 2nd one too, 5th one, 10th one, 20th one...mostly all fine, although sometimes the hip snap could've been snappier, but somehow the glee with which I used to fling myself over back when Violet was living in the area and paddled with me just hasn't come back, and that does so much towards relaxing you and letting you really play in your boat.

I don't know if this is true for all paddlers, but for me, an awful lot of the rolling game resides in my head. I didn't learn to roll all that fast; an early success (I didn't know how I'd done it, but hey, I was right-side up and the instructor swore he hadn't brought me up, so yay) in my first rolling class was followed by something uncomfortably close to a dislocated shoulder on my 1st attempt outside of a class. Took a while to work through the chickenosity that left behind (that thing about getting right back on the horse they made me do when I was a kid taking riding lessons? Unfortunately not so easy when dealing with rolling and a shoulder injury); eventually (in particular thanks to some careful instruction by Richard Chen-See at Manhattan Kayak, who did so much towards laying my early kayaking foundation) I ended up with a pretty solid roll. I still never really, truly, 100% believed it was going to work, though.

What finally busted through that mental block was getting into a string of winter rolling sessions back when the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club was running those at the Yonkers YMCA. They were on work nights and you would sign up for a set of them. Jack Gilman and Andy Laiosa were the main instructors there. Jack introduced me to Greenland rolling; those of us with rolls would practice in the deep end while beginners were working with instructors in the shallow end Yonkers had a great little fleet of old-school whitewater boats for the small YMCA pool; they were super easy to roll and with a string of sessions to play, you could just have more and more fun figuring out how many oddball ways you could get these boats rightside up. There was one memorable series in particular where we just started rolling with anything that wasn't nailed down - pool buoy? Check! Kickboard? Check! Hey, how about that lifesaving dummy? Yeah! Jack even brought in a hockey stick and a toy hockey stick one time and we rolled with those, too (hockey stick is fine but has to be facing the right way or the curve of the blade makes it dive - good to keep in mind next time you capsize in Canada and the only thing you can get your hands on is a hockey stick).

So that was the winter when the whole rolling thing got to be Just Plain Fun. I don't remember where that fits in with my first combat roll, which was with Atlantic Kayak Tours at a BCU 4-star training & assessment in Rhode Island, but I do know that that was when I just started rolling for kicks on almost every paddle - which I hadn't been doing before.

Fast forward to 2016, though - after the surgery, I did start rolling again, but there's just been this timidity about it. Again, as I said, not that I was failing - just that I didn't trust myself after a long break from practicing, with some very weird re-rigging of my pectoral muscles added. So, like, every time I went out, I would find some excuse not to roll. Too cold. Too windy. I have a cold. To many beginners on the trip. Don't want to make this paddle about me showing off. Yeah. BLAH BLAH BLAH. Needed more rolling, less excuses.

One great moment last year, though, was my first combat roll since the operation. That was on the makeup day that Dov Neimand ran for those of us who'd taken the IDW he'd run with Dale Williams in June of last year - with lightning storms in the area, we'd gotten weathered out for our rough water day, and although Dale and Dov had still given us what I would've said was a thoroughly good day of alternative dry land and indoor instruction, Dov still offered us a surf day. That happened in October, and although it wasn't the best conditions, we did get a good workout out at Breezy Point We finished off playing in some weird waves running over the sandbar at right angles to each other - there was one point when I went to brace only there wasn't anything to brace on by the time my blade hit the water, and boop, over I went. And it was shallow, and I could see the sand, and I said "Nope, not coming out of this boat" and I set up and came up with just as comfy a roll as I could want. And there were witnesses as I whooped and hollered like a crazy person. I was SO HAPPY!

So that was fantastic - combat roll does so much to re-instill confidence. So I was all excited to keep going with it at the pool this winter - but then the pool Sebago's had access to in past years has needed a lot of repairs lately & so we were left high and dry this year. Boo.

But Dov Neimand and Julie McCoy have been running sessions at the New York Sports Club up in Dobbs Ferry, though. They started with weeknights, which were a little tricky with work, but they did get some Sunday afternoon time slots last weekend and this weekend. Bit of a hike from Brooklyn but I do looove that train ride up the Hudson. And it really was just what I needed - an hour and a half to just roll and roll and roll and roll and roll some more, with both Greenland and euro and eventually even trying some hand rolling (which is a skill I had once but have lost - didn't get it back but the fact that I was comfortable enough to give it a try and trust in a greenland paddle tucked under the decklines as a backup felt good).dana, sans-serif;"> Dov brought an NDK Latitude for me to try - it's for the "tall thin paddler" so, uh, not quite me these days (tall, yes), but with a little wiggling I was able to squeeze in, and it rolled great. I did not work my way too far up the Greenland list as the space was small and there were active swimmers next to us, and I decided to stick with rolls that I could control well - but just doing the basics again and again and again felt great. And at the end I switched out that slick NDK for a Chatham 17, just to see what I could do with a boat that isn't quite such a "cheater" - well, offside didn't feel perfect but I was able to right the boat on both sides, and then at the end Julie came over to horse around with me a little bit & somewhere in there I fell over completely un-set-up and still didn't even think about ditching, just reset and rolled. Good finished - finished up with just that same spirit of play that that long ago Yonkers session had. So good to feel that again. So that was all fantastic and the ride home along the Hudson with the sun going down was just so much gravy.

I'll take that over a spa day any day.

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Florida Day 3 - Myakka River Boat Tour


Photo from 2019 - a quieter day, and a bit warmer too! As always, click on any picture for a better view. 

We'd visited the Myakka River State Park during last year's visit, and I'm so glad we went back this year. I don't think I got around to posting about this place last year, I ran out of steam after the posts about visiting The Ringling Museum at Ca D'Zan, the Ringling's lovely Sarasota estate, but we'd had a terrific day here the next day and I thought TQ would really enjoy it. In 2019 I'd been so blown away by all the birds that I wrote down a list that I did share in FB:

I don't usually keep bird lists but this was just mindblowing... In no particular order, today at the Myakka River State Park we saw: Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tricolor Heron, Yellowlegs, Great Egret, Snowy and/or Cattle Egret (not sure which), American Avocet, Sandhill Cranes, Killdeer, Brown Pelican, White Pelican, Boat-Tailed Grackle, Crow, Osprey, Anhinga, Roseate Spoonbill, White Ibis, Wood Stork, Belted Kingfisher, Limpkin, Black Vulture, and Bald Eagle (juvenile).


And I added: "And tons of alligators!"

Here are some of the 2019 alligators. The first picture may be kind of sad - this was a big old bruiser of a bull gator who habitually hung out in the little cove out of which the boat tours are run. The guides on the tour last year had told us they'd had a nickname for this guy which they weren't using so anymore because it was considered to be anthropomorphizing in a way they didn't want to do on a tour that was really trying to give visitors a good intro to alligators. But they obviously loved being able to show us such a magnicent gator right off the dock. 

This year, they told us a very sad story about noticing that one of the big alligators that frequented the inlet was acting unwell, and bringing in a specialist to check it out. The minute the guy approached the gator, he could smell that the alligator's breath stunk to high heaven. Turned out the alligator had eaten some plastic which had utterly jammed up his digestive system ahd was literally rotting from the inside out. Did not survive. The captain was pretty upset telling that story. I don't know for sure that this big alligator was the one that died, but given the affection the tour guides had for him, and the very real sadness and anger in the captain's voice, I'm thinking it may have been. Sad ending for this king of Myakka Lake.  

More 2019 gators:




The gator-spotting out on the lake this year wasn't as good. It was much colder and windier. The birds were hunkered down. 




The humans were bundled up - here's TQ and my sister -


And me and my sister. TQ and I were pretty much dressed in what we'd worn leaving Brooklyn. My sister could've used a windbreaker, it was chilly out on the lake and the wind cut right through that fleece.


We did see some birds. Here was a lovely flock of black-necked stilts flying by.

Here was the only shoreline alligator of the tour. I did see one in the water for a moment, but it went under before I could point it out to Karen and TQ. We learned a new fact in this year's tour - alligators like to go dig themselves into the mud at the bottom of the lake to hide from the cold weather. 

Here was our captain,


And speaking of captains, there's my dad and Belle the dog coming to meet the boat. Dogs aren't allowed on the boat, so TQ and Karen and I had gone early to go on that tour. And here you can see how breezy it is! The other pictures here were taken over on the far side of the lake, where we were somewhat in the shelter of the treeline. This side of the lake was all whitecaps.


Back in the inlet, looking back at the lake


Tricolored heron getting a little fishing in despite the cold
And then here was a real treat - this Roseate Spoonbill was hanging out right by the kayak launch, spoonbilling away. No kayaks going out on this cold & blustery day, the bird only had the paparazzi to worry about - and it didn't seem at all concerned about me and the couple of other people taking pictures of it. Gorgeous, isn't it?