Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Breakfast with Brandon, Kayaking with Co-pilot Egg

We had a series of big thunder-rippers come through over night. One after the other, they pounded their way through, so loud and persistent that Brave Sir Hogarth was beside himself with the urge to wake us up and get us all down into the fallout shelter. Informed that we don't have a fallout shelter, he gave me that look that can only mean "What?? Why the hell not??? What are those thumbs you guys are so proud of good for if you don't use them to build a fallout shelter?" I returned his disparaging glare with a scowl that I hoped would mean "Cower if you must, my Brave Knight, but let us at least try to get some sleep." Apparently, it didn't. If the results are to be the judge, it meant "come up with a new plan, and wake me when you have it figured out."

Fifteen minutes later, he woke me up with a look that said "Lifeboats! Everyone to the lifeboats!! What??? We don't have those either??"

On the plus side, the back end of a ripping storm like that is often at least one nice day of blue sky and clear air. Lucky for me, that was the case. The morning Weather-out-the-Window(tm) forecast was beautilicious. A second opinion from the national weather service confirmed it: FLY!

But... I had promised the Co-pilot Egg that we would go kayaking. What to do, what to do. Quite the dilemma, and even Sir Hogarth the Answer Dog couldn't offer a solution. Mostly because he was still somewhat irate about our inadequate storm preparations, I suspect, and not really in the mood to help me out. Not so much couldn't, but wouldn't. The Egg had had a member of the Junior Varsity All-Girl Giggling Club over for a sleepover, though, and they seldom emerge from her quarters before the noon lunch whistle, so I had at least the morning. Breakfast! In Lima! A stellar idea! So stellar, in fact, that it had already been planned. 'Twas just a matter of notifying Occasional Blog Commenter Brandon of my departure time.

I grabbed the camcorder on the way out thinking that I might as well make a movie of the little trip. Which, well, I did, but man is it boring! That's not to say that it wasn't a fun flight; the weather was just terrific for flying. It's not even that there was nothing interesting to see. I saw a round barn (for some reason, I think those are sooo cool!), and I flew over the Honda test track. The test track is incredible. I grabbed a couple of pictures from Google map.

This one shows the immensity of the oval track if you compare the one mile legend to the length of the straights:

This one shows the various testing conditions they have besides the long haul of the oval:

I think the only road condition they can't test here is the "Inattentive Soccer Mom with a Van Full of Screaming Kids and an Ear Plastered to her Cell Phone" that is so nearly ubiquitous on our local highways. Oh, and they might not have the "Guy With a Cell Phone in One Hand, a Cigarette in the Other Hand, and a Beer in his Third Hand." We get a lot of those, too.

Lima isn't renowned as The Breakfast Capital of the World for nothing. As it turns out, Lima isn't renowned as The Breakfast Capital of the World at all. Nothing more exotic than two Bob Evans's and a Panera Bread. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Bob's is where we eat breakfast in the big city too. Throwing caution to the wind in the manner only a homeowner who has failed to provide a fallout shelter or collection of lifeboats can do, I ordered the Border Scramble Breakfast Burrito, a concoction of tummy-roiling ingredients (Beans? BEANS?? Before flying???) guaranteed to make their presence felt on the return trip. Short trip, though, and the odds, while not being in my favor, were nonetheless tolerable. Besides which, I LOVE breakfast burritos!

After the kind of conversation two pilots are bound to have (No, not politics. Flying!) and a nice breakfast, I had to get back home for the kayaking. The skies were still pilot-friendly, not having stirred themselves up with bumps and haze and all of that other stuff they like to do on hot summer afternoons. A nice, greasy landing back at Bolton finished off a nice morning flight.

I arrived back at the house to find the two members of the Giggling Club just sitting down to breakfast. Very good timing on my part! The Egg and I would be on the river by 1:00 at that rate. Kayaking being similar to flying when it comes to tight quarters having no "rest" facilities, I downloaded the morning caffeine intake to prepare for a few hours stuck in a boat. Flying clothes are not kayaking clothes, so preparations along those lines were accomplished as well. Soon enough, we were on the way to the canoe livery.

Egg, herself having no kayak of her own, would require a rental. That being the case, I too would be in a rental. I thought ahead far enough to bring my own paddle, though, thinking that the kind of equipment available for a $20 rental was, while adequate, unlikely to be of the high quality I have become accustomed to. After all, they rent these things out to people that have never used a kayak before, and having seen some of the more stellar members of their target market out on the river, I can certainly understand why they have to use the most robust and lowest cost equipment available.

But... spoiled by good equipment, I am! And I was correct about the quality of the equipment: the kayaks were Old Town Otters, a very low cost kayak that I suspect is made out of recycled Rubbermaid trash cans, and a solid plastic paddle that weighed almost twice as much as mine and was only half the length too. "Sucks to be the Egg," I thought, but it wasn't more than a half mile down the river before I was swapping my carbon fiber paddle for her plastic abomination. It was heavy and unwieldy, and she was under much better control with the better paddle. She got my gloves too, about a mile later. She was gripping the paddle overly tight and giving herself blisters. I know that, having done it myself. Which prompted the purchase of the gloves in the first place, of course.

The shorter kayak (less than 10' as compared to the 17' Shearwater) turned much easier, but I'm not sure if that was a blessing or a curse. It took the Egg no more than a mile or so to get comfortable with controlling her boat under normal conditions, but she found (as did I, on one memorable occasion) that it was easy to come out of a faster piece of the river and "spin out." These boats simply don't track straight at all.

The canoe livery offers an Upper Trip and a Lower Trip. The trips are measured from the location of the livery, with the livery being in the middle. For the Upper Trip, they put you in a van and carry you six miles up river to start, and you pull in at the livery after working your way back down river. This is the trip I take in my boat since both the drop-off and destination are publicly accessible. Since I've made that trip a couple of times now, we opted for the Lower Trip. I also thought it might be the easier of the two since the livery turns hundreds of first-timers loose on it daily, and one would think that liability would enter into the equation.

Apparently they are counting on the strength of the liability waiver they required us to sign, because I found the Lower Trip to be a lot more challenging than the Upper. There are more shallow areas, and shallow areas can present either or both of fast water or water so shallow that you get stuck on the rocks. The other complication to arise was having a second kayak to coordinate with. After bouncing off of each other enough times, the Egg and I figured out that we needed to keep a little space between our boats, but it remained the case that we would periodically get in each others way as we negotiated some of the faster parts of the river. It was not uncommon to be barreling along just fine only to be blocked by a spin out from the leading kayak.

I also learned not to follow the lead of a boat that was 45 pounds lighter than mine. There was one area that the Egg made it through by scraping over the rocks, but I got solidly stuck. I had to get out of the boat and drag it to deeper water. That was better than what happened a little later, though: I ran into a big, submerged rock going full speed. Remember that these boats are plastic? Well, the big stone hit the bottom of the boat in just the right spot to flex the plastic and impart at least a portion of the force of the impact into, well, my stones, if you catch my drift. Ouch!

By the time we were halfway down the river, Egg was controlling her boat well enough that she could get through fast, tight areas unscathed while I, the supposedly more experienced kayaker, ran into obstructions. I lead the way through one area where I was about to run right into the trunk and roots of a fallen tree and had to stuff the paddle into the root structure to push myself away. The roots and dirt acted like the proverbial Tar Baby (I apologize if that term, like many others, is now politically forbidden to use, but I can't think of another simile that works as well) in that once the paddle went in, I had a helluva time pulling it back out. I ended up with my right arm covered in dirt, mud, and various flakes of root detritus. Much to the delight of the Egg, who shuffled on through the same spot completely unscathed. The secret to her success must have been the paddle, I figure. In fact, I'm sure that was it!

There weren't many people on the river, and those that were we caught up with and passed. Once you get out in front of the others, your chances of seeing wild life are greatly increased. We saw a couple of turtles slipping into the water, and at one point we got as close to a blue heron as I've ever been able to get. All of that quiet nature stuff is great, but it only makes the return to "civilization" even more stark.

This time, we were greeted at the exit point by a group of 25 noisy pre-teen kids on an outing from their day care. They were quite busy throwing rocks into the river, and completely blocking the exit point with their canoes. They were attended by a handful of chaperones that clearly had no idea that their function was to ride herd on the children under their charge. Typical of more and more people these days, they were completely oblivious to their (in)actions, and couldn't be bothered to move their boats a few feet out of the way of others that may be wanting to get off of the river.

Egg had a good time, and I think she would kayak again, but I'm not keen on renting again. We waited nearly half an hour to be picked up by the livery folks, the boats floated, but really weren't good kayaks, and by the time you spend $40 to rent every time you want to go, you're not too far from what it would cost to pick up a used boat on Craigs List.

And, having failed to provide a Weather-out-the-Window(tm) picture from the glorious morning, here is an evening photo:

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