Sunday, June 14, 2009

Early starts

My personal list of things that are improved by getting an early start continues to grow. Consider:

- Flying. The air is cooler and smoother, there are fewer airplanes to deal with in the battle for limited-capacity shared resources (runways, parking spots, pie), and the greenhouse cockpit of an RV has not yet gotten hot enough to cook a pizza.
- Driving to work. Every five minutes late out the door is another 10,000 cars on the road being driven by women doing their makeup and men pretending they're racing the last lap at Talladega.
- Running/jogging/biking: see 'Flying' re: temperatures.

To that list I have now added kayaking. But we'll get to that.

I'm just back from an early breakfast at Urbana for the second week in a row. Co-pilot Rick, who is now a necessary component of the airplane to the degree that I rarely fly alone anymore, has had afternoon commitments for the last couple of weekends and the weather forecasts for the late afternoon have also been somewhat cruddy.

There's nothing wrong with the idea of flying out to breakfast per se, but it does come with the slight additional baggage of feeling like some of the utility of the airplane is going to waste. It is a pretty expensive and ostentatious (bordering on debauchery, to be perfectly candid) way to go out for a meal after all. To salve my conscience, I've been practicing the throttle-to-idle-on-downwind landings that I first attempted during my BFR last month. It's better to do that when the landing pattern is more or less empty and the only way to ensure that when flying to Urbana on a Sunday morning is to get there early. See 'Flying' re: limited-capacity shared resources.

The first attempt was the arrival at Urbana last week. Remembering that I had landed long both times I had tried it during the BFR, I extended my downwind a little bit before turning onto the base leg. Once turned onto the final approach and with enough altitude in the potential energy column of the how-goes-it spreadsheet (as evidenced by a solid row of white lights on the PAPI lights), I would start easing the flaps down. On the first try I put Papa right on the numbers with an almost-a-greaser-but-not-quite landing. Later, when returning to Bolton, I did even better: I scored one of those landings where the only indication of having converted Papa from a flying machine to a rolling machine is the scuff of the tires as they are forced into rotation by the friction of the runway surface.

On the way out to Urbana, I also got a chance to take a better picture of the round barn:

Today was a bit windier at 7-ish knots and thus afforded me with the additional benefit of a crosswind to practice against, but the results were similar. Well, the second and third results were similar; the arrival at Urbana was something more akin to what you'd see in a circus act. I carried a bit too much speed into the flare and got into a cycle of bouncing down the runway on the left wheel. Or as I said at the time, "That was atrocious, and it's still not over." Fortunately Papa needed gas and at an unsustainable price of $3.45 per over at MadCo, it was pecuniarily efficacious to make a stop there on the way back to Bolton. That would give me a chance for a redemption landing, albeit landing to the east which is something I routinely do poorly when landing at MadCo. It worked out well enough today, as did the final landing back at Bolton. It wasn't a strong crosswind, but it was sufficient for getting some good practice.

So, back to why kayaking is improved with an early start. Getting out to the river before it starts to get hot and/or sunny is a big benefit, but beating the crowd of drunken canoers is also beneficial. That's primarily a problem further down river where Trapper Johns Drunken Canoer Livery feeds sloshed boaters into the river like the detritus from a pork rendering plant splashing out of a sluice pipe, but you still get your fair share up river too. As we all know, it's never too early in the day to be drunk in a boat but most of the heavy drinkers get smashed on Saturday night and sleep in on Sundays. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part you can get there ahead of them.

You may remember that the last time I had been kayaking, I had gone sans seat cushion when we took the boats up to Alum Creek. As you might expect, that caused a notable discomfort in the posterior regions. To address that pain point, I ordered a seat cushion to provide some buffer between my bones and the hard bottom of the boat. It turns out that seating cushions for kayaks are unconscionably expensive. The cheapest I could find was a product called the Happy Bottom Kayak Seat. It was surprisingly costly for something that's really nothing more than a piece of injection molded foam, but what are ya gonna do? If the bottom isn't happy, the kayaker isn't happy. I used the seat for the first time yesterday when Rick and I took a short ride down the Big Darby.

We got the aforementioned early start so had the river to ourselves for the most part, although we did come upon a group of three fishing from a canoe. Either the fish were biting like mad or these folks were going to go unfed for the week if they didn't bring something home, but for whatever reason they apparently couldn't spare the 30 seconds it would have taken for us to pass by them. Now I don't know if there is conventional wisdom or a river custom of courtesy to back this statement up, but it seems rude to me to cast your fishing line right across the path of a passing kayak. Which is exactly what two of the three did. Perhaps they think there are brake pedals on kayaks. Hint: there are not.

Once past them, though, it was just the two of us and the chirping of the birds. The water was a touch low and there were some spots where the banging of river water against the bottom of my boat made me wonder when I could expect to spring a leak, and there were a couple of places where I actually got stuck on the rocks, but other than that it was a very nice ride. Except for one thing. I hurt like hell.

While my bottom was perfectly happy, it so transpires that with regards to kayaking, happiness is a zero-sum game. In other words, it seems that something has to hurt. By removing the pain from my bottom, it was mathematically required to find a new place to reside. What it found was my backbone. The new seat shifted my seating position such that I found myself leaning back against the cockpit sill. After about a half hour of rubbing my spine against that hard, sharp edge, I was to the point where something had to be done to put some padding between the two surfaces. I folded up the little towel that I carry with me and that provided a modicum of relief, but it was one of those situations of too little, too late. I was burdened with that ache until we finally got out of the boats. It was the first time since I've been kayaking that I couldn't wait to get out of the boat. So the search begins today for a piece of foam that I can glue to the sill to provide a softer place to lean back against.

Even with the personal discomfort, though, it was a beautiful ride. I took along the video camera and put together a short, six minute movie. Be sure to watch it all the way through since there's some neat wildlife to see at the end. And it you have the bandwidth to view it in HD, it's well worth doing so:

Warning: don't turn your speakers up too loud - it gets very noisy when the boat starts hitting and scraping across rocks!

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