Friday, August 31, 2007

Kayaking class

Well, Annie and I took a beginning kayaking class with the folks at L.L. Bean in Freeport, ME, during our recent vacation, and it was a lot of fun. A lot of work too, but a lot of fun. And we both feel a lot more confident about kayaking, and will probably rent them from time to time.

The class lasted basically the whole day, broken up by lunch, which was included in the price of the class (very reasonable). The morning session was primarily about basic paddling technique, for both straight paddling and turning, as well as reversing. To begin with, we had a little demo/lesson on land, then went to the dock to launch our kayaks, two at a time, from ramps. I have to admit, it was a little unsettling when the fellow next to me on the ramp rolled right over the moment his kayak entered the water! As it turns out, he got to be the first one in the class to learn a "rescue" technique. And then he capsized at least two other times, getting even more practice! But by the end of the day, he was paddling along confidently, and smiling broadly.

Anyway, the basic paddling part was fun and fairly easy. The finer points do take practice, and I imagine it takes a number of times kayaking before they start to become second nature. But at least I have the proper form in my head, and have experienced what it feels like when it all comes together.

The tougher part of the class came in the afternoon, when we learned about what to do when you capsize. The two instructors taught us both a "T-rescue", in which the capsized kayaker is assisted by another, still-upright kayaker, and a self rescue, where (as you might guess), you have to save yourself. The T-rescue was pretty easy, all in all, and the basic rules are pretty straightforward. The self rescue is quite a bit harder, and only one or two of the twelve of us succeeded at this. Then again, not that many actually tried it, as it was up to us whether we wanted to. I'd like to say I was one of the ones who succeeded, but I wasn't. I did try however, and I feel like I at least understand the principles.

One thing I learned... or rather re-learned... during this process, was that when you find yourself in a "team-taught" class, and the class is split into two groups to learn a specific, hands on skill, make sure you are in the group with the older, more experienced instructor. Annie and I ended up in the other group, alas, and I think that was part of the problem with the self rescue for me. Annie told me afterward that she had been watching the older instructor coach his group in the self rescue, and he was apparently much clearer and more instructive than our guy. I couldn't tell you, as I was at that moment spending an amazing amount of time in the water, trying to get OUT of the water and into my boat. I lost count, but I know I was in and out of the water at least four times before I finally decided I was just too tired by that point to do it.

At that point, one of my classmates happily volunteered to do a T-rescue with me... and proceeded to do it all wrong, dumping me into the water yet again. Argh. Ah well, it was just water. And while at various times my hat, shoes, and sunglasses were set adrift, the only thing I lost was the sunglasses. I ended up bruised and scraped in a number of places as well, but not seriously. I'd have to say my pride took the biggest blow, at not having succeeded at the self rescue. I felt a little better though, after I watched another member of the class succeed at it... and doing it very differently from the way I approached it. When I asked the younger instructor about that he said "well, yeah, that way is easier, although either way will work." Well, it would have been nice to get that tip while I was in the water. Oh well.

All in all it was a lot of fun, and I look forward to doing some more kayaking in the future. I'm still not sure I'd prefer kayaking to canoing (which I've done more of), but there are some aspects of kayaks that seem better than canoes. And vice versa. I'm not ready to run out and buy either right now... especially since I don't live on or near enough a lake or some other body of water to make it worthwhile. But I can always rent from time to time, and even take another class or two. I highly recommend the L. L. Bean classes to anyone that wants to learn an outdoor skill that they teach.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Back from Vacation!

Funny, I was just starting to get into the swing of posting more often, when I went away on a vacation and stopped writing again.

But now that I'm back, let's see if we can write more often.

I'll start with vacation...

Annie and I headed up to Maine, with the goal of getting to parts of the state neither of us had seen. Basically, neither of us had been further north than Bar Harbor, so that left a lot of ground to cover. We had just over a week, and leaving from Virginia, that meant a lot of driving. Too much driving, in hind sight, but we still had a great time.

First stop in Maine was Freeport, where we "camped" in a friend's backyard for two nights, giving us a chance to take a kayaking class with L.L. Bean. A lot of fun, and I learned a lot too. I've really never been given any sort of guidance in a kayak, and had really only been in one a couple of times previously. I'll cover more about the class in a separate post, hopefully.

Next, we headed up the coast, to the very tip of the Maine coastline, camping at Cobscook Bay State Park. A lovely park, with secluded campsites for tents, with water views all around. Really pretty, quiet, and fun. And much to our surprise, not far from Campobello Island, where FDR had his summer "cottage"... all 34 rooms of it! I guess everyone has a different definition of cottage. :-) It was a lovely place, and it's very well preserved and presented. And the rest of the island is lovely. Small quiet villages with modest homes and great views. Alas, there's a plan to put a Liquified Natural Gas terminal in Passamoquoddy Bay up there, to get gas to Boston... and wreaking havoc on everything up there in the process I'm sure. Needless to say, the residents of Campobello (which is in Canada) are less than thrilled. Lots of signs protesting the plan all over the island.

Our next stop was Presque Isle, near the northern end of the state, inland. While I'm sure there's more to the town and the region than meets the eye, we just weren't that excited by it. Not a bad place, but not a place I'd race back to either. And I have no clue why it's called Presque's land locked! Anyone who knows, drop me a line.

Oh, on the way to PI, we ran smack into a parade in the small town of Houlton. Turns out it was their 200th anniversary there. We had to make one heck of a detour to get around the downtown area. It would have been nice if there had been some signs, but oh well.

Our last big stop in Maine was a night in Baxter State Park, in more or less the center of the state. Wow, that's a pretty area! Right at the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail too, at Mt. Katahdin. I took a little hike the evening we got there, and it was great. No moose sightings, but still some pretty scenery, and I did get to watch a woodpecker for a while.

All in all it was a great trip. If I had it to do over again, knowing what I know now, I would visit fewer places and stay in each a bit longer... especially the nothern coast. Baxter was great too, and would be a fun place to camp for a week or so, I bet. It must be gorgeous in the fall!

And it was wonderful to have daytime high temperatures in the 70s, instead of the 90s we had when we got back. I could really get used to cooler summers, honestly. Then again, I imagine winters must feel pretty long sometimes up there. I enjoy winter, but I haven't lived somewhere where it really hangs around for a very long time. It would be good to try it though.

Well, that's about it. I'm going to try to post more steadily now... wish me luck.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Today's Kids and Their Sports Heroes

This morning I was listening the the Saturday edition of NPR's Morning Edition, and they were doing a story on a baseball field somewhere that was going to give the local high school a decent place to play, as well as others. I'm not that much of a sports fan, so I was only half listening, until the started talking to a 10 year old kid about how good a hitter he was. The reporter asked if he considered himself a "slugger", and he said "Yeah, I guess so". Then, in the background, you hear another kid, probably his best friend, half whisper "Barry Bonds!" The first kid was still talking about his own prowess on the diamond, but paused to say "I'M not on steroids!" before he went on.

Both funny and sad, honestly. We used to be able to look up to athletes and admire them, even dream a little of being like them some day. Honestly, I never did much of that, not being a sports fan even as a kid. But in my teens I did start reading about Eddy Merckx and Felice Gimondi and other bicycle racers... even some young kid in the western US who people were starting to talk about... some punk named Lemond who was beating older riders at their game. So, while the Barry Bonds thing doesn't hit close to home, it was pretty depressing to watch this years Tour de France and find myself thinking "who is next going to leave the race due to some doping incident or suspicion?"

Maybe those golden days when we could just admire our heroes were an illusion. It seems pretty certain that there has always been some level of chemical enhancement in many sports for a long time. But it still feels like we've lost a little innocense, when I hear a kid say "I'm not on steroids" on public radio.

Do Lycra and Aerobars Make One Mute?

That's the thought that went through my mind this morning on my ride to work. I had just had yet another "Serious Cyclist" whiz past in the opposite direction, with not even the slightest acknowledgment that I was there.

Now, I understand training and discipline and all that, but when one after another these folk zip on by, with not even a flicker of recognition of another human being... another cyclist, it just bothers me. I don't expect them to break their cadence, sit up and give me a high five as we pass or anything. A simple "hello", or even a nod of the head would be nice. And I know there's nothing that says they have to react to me in any way... it just seems like a decent and human thing to do.

I say hi or some other greeting to just about everyone I see on the trail, and I like to think it might brighten someone's day now and then. I don't know... maybe most folks think "who the heck was that and why were they talking to me????" But I find a simple "hi" or "good morning" is nice, when it happens. And a fair number of folk do at least respond in some manner. The older man on his 70s road bike, the woman walking her dog, the couple just enjoying a morning stroll... those are the people who at least say something or nod.

It's the lycra crowd that pretty much universally acts like I'm not even there. Not a word is uttered when we pass in opposite directions, not even a glance my way. And don't get me started on how many times a "go-fast" rider has overtaken me and zoomed past, without even a word or sound of warning to let me know they were about to pass. THAT really annoys me... not just because it sometimes startles me, and is rude to me, but because it is the type of behavior that makes other path users resent cyclists as a whole.

Oh well, no matter. I will keep cheerfully calling out a greeting, even to those who stare right through their Oakleys past me. It costs me nothing, and I think it might even make a person or two feel better about their fellow humans now and then.


"You sure have a way with people", Harold said as they left the amusement park and walked along the pier.

"Well," said Maude, "they're my species."

Colin Higgins, Harold and Maude

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Memories of childhood

I'm sitting here on a hot summer's day... nearly 100 degrees and humid here in the Greater DC area... sipping on a cherry Slurpee. Brings back memories of growing up on the other side of the Beltway, over in suburban Maryland, in the late 60s. Back when the town of Bowie was "way out there" and a brand new bedroom community sprouting on a former thoroughbred horse farm. Long before the sprawl of suburbs that now sees folks commuting to DC from across the Bay Bridge, or from places as far as Frederick and Hagerstown, MD, or Warrenton, VA. Back when my family bought a four bedroom Cape Cod for just under $20K... and a bottle of Dr. Pepper was 16 cents, 2 cents of which was the deposit on the bottle.

Which brings me back to the Slurpee. Moving to Maryland from Long Island when we did, 7-11 stores were a new thing to us. We had one within easy walking distance from our house, and my sister Louise and I would walk up there to get sodas, candy, ice cream, or of course, Slurpees. Back then they only had a few flavors... as I recall, you could get cola, cherry, or orange, I think grape... maybe root beer, but I'm not certain of that. And back then, the machine offered you only a choice of two of those flavors, depending on the day. Now there's an amazing array of flavors, and something like 8 of them at any one time. And the cup sizes were tiny by today's standards. But they sure hit the spot on a hot day. Even today, I have to admit, this is tasting mighty good. I couldn't drink more than one or two a summer now, but on the right day, it's fun to revisit an old favorite.

The other thing about those trips to 7-11 that was different... My sister and I would stop by a nearby construction site, where a batch of new town houses were sprouting, to find discarded soda bottles, so we could cash them in for the deposit. The workers tended to leave a lot behind, so we managed to finance quite a bit of our trips from that site, or at least augment our own cash. I was probably 6-7 at the time, and Louise would have been 10-11. I have to wonder... would anyone today let two of their kids roam a construction site unsupervised? Or head off into the local woods for an adventure of frog-catching or playing "army"? Probably not... and I have to imagine childhood is poorer for it.

I guess today is my official "codger-in-training" post, huh? :-)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Time Capsule on Two Wheels

No, I'm actually not talking about one of my bicycles, although one could make the case that they are, in fact, snapshots of a bygone era.

Actually, today I'm going to write about a cyclist I saw yesterday on my commute to work, and the bike and equipment he had.

The first thing I noticed was his helmet, because it was one of the original Bell Biker helmets, from the 70s:

(Shown is a photo from the Smithsonian's "America on the Move" collection online at:

A very cool exhibit, both online and in person. Alas, the American History Museum is closed for renovation.)

As I got closer, I saw that he was riding an old Lotus (no relation to the cars, it was one of many Japanese brands introduced in the 70s and 80s in the US), with old school toe clips and straps. On top of it all... or rather, on the bottom... he was wearing an old pair of "touring shoes" from Cannondale. These shoes haven't been made in a couple of decades... my best friend bought a pair back in the early 80s. All in all, it was like seeing a bit of living history on the wheel.

The best part was, the gentleman looked to be a few years older than me... probably in his fifties (Where did the years go? That used to seem so old!), and he was tooling right along at a decent pace and clearly enjoying himself, out on a morning ride. If I hadn't had to go to work, i might have asked to join him.

I wonder what his story is... did he recently decide to start exercising again, and pulled the old bike from storage, dusting it off and riding? Or has he ridden and cherished it all these years, as I have with my Trek? Or does he have a collection of old bikes that he appreciates in much the same way I do, my own rolling time capsules... 78 Centurion, 78 Raleigh Pro, and now 73 Scwhinn Paramount? My hunch is it's either the first or second. Most likely, the first, given the ancient helmet and shoes. The shoes looked to be in very good shape for their age, and I can't imagine too many folks using the old Biker helmet steadily for 30 years or so, while watching other folks get lighter, better ventilated helmets. Then again, maybe he's frugal, and just sees no point to "upgrading" such a utilitarian item.

Who knows? I hope one of these days to see him out there again, and perhaps chat a bit. It might be fun.