Saturday, October 8, 2011

Cat Vomit

Among all the pleasures associated with cat ownership, vomit is surely the most revolting. I don't know why this should be. I don't consider myself a queasy person. I can eat spaghetti while I watch Faces of Death or The Biggest Loser, but as soon as a cat starts retching I'm fleeing the room. Anyway, I've developed a new process for dealing with cat puke. My old procedure went like this:

Cat starts dry heaving.
Step 1: Curse God for inventing household felines while suppressing involuntary gag reflex.
Step 2: Vacate space in which said puke resides while going to great length to neither look at nor smell it (note that I'm trying not to do things I have little or no control over, like breathe or smell).
Step 3: Inform Aimee that one of her cats threw up and wait for her to finish "taking care of it" before coming back into the room.
Step 4: Pretend it never happened.

But what about if it happens when Aimee's not home? It depends. If she's not home but will be soon (within a couple hours), my policy is to let it be. But today a cat puked in the kitchen and Aimee's not going to be home for many hours. I can't let cat vom just sit there while I try to make my bachelor weekend dinner (frozen pizza), but I can't look at or approach it without the very real threat of adding to it's volume. What's a grown man to do? First I thought I would get up off the couch and head in that general direction to get a paper towel and clean it up, but before I even got off the couch I was dry heaving. OK, control yourself, I thought. Think about this! Navigate around vom while staring at the ceiling. It's tricky, because you need the puke to be in your periphery (so you don't step on it and need an amputation), but you can't look directly at it either. I managed to get to the paper towels and found a plastic grocery bag. My plan was to drop the paper towels on the puke and then get the whole mess up with the plastic bag the way that dog owners pick up poop. I gathered my courage and made my approach but had to abort and run around the vom and out of the room and try not to go all Linda Blair all over the place. Now I'm getting stressed out. New plan: delay cleaning it by placing a bowl (very quickly) over it, so that I don't have too see it and can move around in its general vicinity. Then I did a bunch of other things while I tried to work out a better way in my head. In the end, I found that I could bunch up the paper towels and hold them with a plastic bag bunched around my hand (so that my skin doesn't actually touch the paper towels, and therefore cannot possibly come in contact with vomit). With one hand I could lift the bowl and hold it just so, such that I can't see the puke. With my other hand (the plastic bag paper towel hand) I wiped it up without really being aware of any texture (I just gagged a little thinking about it) and pull the whole disgusting mess back into the bag then run to the trash and deposit it. Whew! A new paper towel and some Fantastick! lemon scented antibacterial spray eliminated any vestiges and I can face my girlfriend with pride. So for the future, I will stick with the old plan when Aimee is around, but when she's not, I shall:

Step 1: Curse God for inventing felines. Especially curse the particular ingrate who spat up the expensive damned food they're spoiled with.
Step 2: While barely holding back your own lunch, find a bowl and gingerly cover the puke with it. Leave it for as long as necessary to gather you nerve.
Step 3: Bunch several paper towels together and hold them with a hand inside a plastic grocery bag, poop collector style.
Step 4: Gently lift bowl at an angle the gives enough room for wiping hand without exposing the vom to your field of vision. It's best to do this while staring at a fixed point nearby, so that the bowl and your hands are just in the edge of your vision.
Step 5: Quickly wipe up vom with paper towels and retract into the plastic bag.
Step 6: Deposit into trash can.
Step 7: Disinfect the puke surface.
Step 8: Wash hands.
Step 9: Mix yourself a drink and gloat about how you're a "responsible cat daddy."

Good luck.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Slave Canal

Yesterday I tagged along on a trip down the Slave Canal with The Wilderness Way. It is, without question or reservation, the prettiest piece of water I've seen in N FL. Rivers have a funny way of going underground in this area, such that they don't always make their way to the ocean above ground (read navigable for shipping). In the canal craze of the early 19th century some local big wigs got it in their heads to connect the Wacissa, which isn't open to the gulf, to the Aucilla, which is. Thus they cracked a scheme to dig a canal from the point where the Wacissa goes underground to the Aucilla some 3 miles away. They didn't actually get started until the 1850's. As the name might suggest, slaves were used to dig it. Records are slim on info, so no one really knows how many worked or what casualty figures might have looked like, but the work must have been grueling between the swamp, heat, biting insects, and heavy manual labor. They finished it a few years before the start of the Civil War, and then it fell into disuse because the war so disrupted trade in the region.

All that sounds kind of grim, but now it is an absolutely beautiful and pristine piece of wilderness. Put in is at the sound end of the Wacissa (Goose Pasture). The Wacissa narrows and snakes along in its crystal clear fashion for a while until a right fork into the canal (there's a sign, but it'd be easy to miss). From there it's only a few miles to the take out on the Aucilla, but it's a time consuming few miles, as there are lots of logs that necessitate getting out of the boat and dragging over. You could not do this trip and stay dry from the waist down. Luckily the water is pretty clear, sandy bottom, and ranges from 1' to 3' deep almost the whole time. It averages about 15' to 20' wide. The weather was perfect, cool morning, 80's afternoon, breezy, blue skies. The sunlight filtered through the pine and hardwood and palms most wonderfully and the birds were singing and it felt like some remote central American rainforest. We saw a few gators, mostly tiny, but one bigger one, 6' or so, which walked along the bottom right under us. There were lots of gar and mullet, and prothonotary warblers, woodpeckers, owls, snowy egret, cattle egret (out of place), Mississippi and swallow tail kites. It was spectacular and it considerably improved my opinion of N FL.

After such a great day on the water there's not much to do except make a good dinner and drink good wine, which we did. While we were grilling (Buffalo chicken sliders and grilled okra, mmmmm) a barred owl swooped overhead and into a tree not 20' from the back patio and caused a ruckus from all the birds that were nesting in the viburnum. He stayed a few minutes and we ogled him until all those little chickadees and mockingbirds and crows pestered him too much and he flew away. It was really neat. All told a great Sunday. Get out and enjoy the beautiful weather before summer gets here and it gets stupid hot.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ochlockonee Swimmers, an Incident and Analysis

Today I had my first real rescue situation. We underestimated current in an S bend in the lower Ochlockonee (which is an Indian word for "wet white woman from Colorado") River and a guest got shoved into some brush. She stiffened up and turned right over. A guide was right on her and directed most of the other guests out of the current river right. The swimmer's boyfriend was still in the middle of the river and went over to help. I hung back where I could see both the guide/swimmer and the rest of the group, and upstream where I could help as needed. The swimmer was jammed into the brush, against a boat (mostly submerged), with a guide and her boyfriend immediately upstream. After some struggling with the brush and current they managed to get her to the bank and pull her boat up. She's cold and rattled but OK. Boyfriend tries to shove off into the current but also gets shoved into the brush and rolls right over. I'm still upstream and move to him. I asked him if he's OK, he is, and if he can float/swim the boat to the opposite bank, which is more or less out of the current, which he says he can. We get there and get him back in his boat fairly quickly. Meanwhile the other swimmer and guide get her boat out and they portage upstream a ways so that she can re-enter far enough above the bend to make the turn correctly. She accomplishes this and no-one is much worse off aside from a lost hat and sunglasses.

Could we have prevented the situation to begin with? Maybe, but probably not. We had scouted the trip four days ago and there was no cause for alarm, though the water had dropped a little since then and the Venturi was amplified in the corners and around strainers, which definitely contributed to this situation and complicated dealing with it. Everything was fine and then there was one, then another person in the water. In a perfect world we would have recognized that bend as a problem and given clear commands for exactly how to maneuver, though whether these commands would have been properly executed....who can say? All guests had paddled before and seemed competent enough, but when the conditions got a little more complicated they stiffened up and didn't really know how to deal with it, but that's not their fault.

OK, so once she was in the water then what? The guide that helped her was there immediately, and that was good. She directed the other folks out of the current and out of danger; also good. I hung back with a clear line of sight and ready to assist as directed. The boyfriend of the first swimmer sort of hung in the middle and then ended up piled into them. This was both good and bad. It was good in that he was reassuring to the swimmer and helped get her to the bank. But the current there was stiff and difficult to do anything in, and three people/three boats is more complicated than two people/two boats. Once swimmer #1 was on dry ground he tried to paddle straight from the corner across the current to the rest of the group, and he more or less immediately found himself in the same situation she had been in and fell out of his boat. Luckily rather than being wedged against the brush, we was swept out into the middle of the river and it was easy to get him over to the bank where we could dump his boat and get him in it. Had he gone with the rest of the group we could have avoided his involvement all-together and had one less cold wet person.

So, lessons learned:

1. Anticipate problems where possible and direct less experienced guests through them.
2. Do not assume that guests understand basic hydrodynamic principles or how to maneuver their boat, especially if they are a little freaked out.
3. Direct those not already involved firmly out of the way. "Helpers" quickly become victims and more often than not will complicate, not placate, the situation. We went from happy and dry to cold and wet in an instant.
4. A dry bag full of dry clothes was absolutely necessary. Swimmer #1 spent more than a few minutes in the water and it was fairly cold. Luckily we had this, but a cheap fleece jacket and some sort of tights or leggings would have been helpful.

In the end everyone was fine and they had a memorable trip. We dealt with it the best we could given the situation. It all happened in a few minutes and once we were in the situation, all we could do was react appropriately. I definitely need to brush up on my rescue and recovery skills. I feel pretty confidant about myself, but less so about a freaked out tourist from Colorado. We did a good job projecting confidence and remaining calm, and that helped a lot, but I want to feel like I can handle it on my own if that sort of thing pops up again. After we got back to the shop we had a good conversation about it and my boss was super positive and supportive of my judgment and actions, which was reassuring. All told it was a good experience, though I wasn't the one who got wet...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


It's been a while. Changes....I've taken up guiding again, after a long respite from the halcyon days with the best people I could have ever hoped to work with at the Salt Marsh Kayak Company in Wrightsville Beach, NC. After much beating around the bush, in November I went on 3 trips with The Wilderness Way. One on the St. Marks, and the other two on the Wacissa. It's fun to do that again and it gives me a reasonable excuse to take time from my "real" job to go paddling. No trips in Dec. but that's no surprise given the weather we've had. Off the water I traveled to Kansas and saw what I'm sure will be the greatest music experience of my life, Roger Waters performance of The Wall (thanks Mom and Dad). Regular Thanksgiving hullabaloo (20 hours driving in 5 days, but well worth seeing family. Busy holiday retail season at the bike shop. No travel for Christmas because my parents came here, which was really nice. Loads of new kitchen gadjetry, both high tech and low, like a stand mixer, food processor, the last wok we'll ever need and miscellaneous other things that help us produce food that regularly blows our minds. New bird feeder, birding books, and binoculars (super stoked about them). I'm doing a section of the Sopchoppy with my new boss on Friday, so I'll post a trip report on that.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

More vs. Less

There's a lot of stuff that you can get to enhance your paddling experience. It's true in most outdoor pursuits, and I imagine for enthusiasts of nearly any variety. I'd gotten to this point where I never paddled without the essential safety gear, maps, guide books, flora and fauna guides, binoculars, food, and so on. I didn't get too involved in it (like with GPS and all the other gear you can get) but I did find that I was feeling a bit bogged down by it all. It just seemed burdensome to need to make two or more trips to the car to get everything whenever I wanted to paddle for a while.

Simplicity is one of the things I think we're all looking for when we venture outdoors. We want a basic connection to the visceral existence that we know pre-existed our comfortable, air-conditioned, gore-texed, wrapped in plastic present. I think we need it at a genetic level. This had always been one of my favorite features of surfing, one that I would pontificate about if someone asked me. That is, surfing is an amazingly complicated synthesis of balance, speed, finesse, wave knowledge, timing, placement, weight distribution, trim, but requires so little in the way of equipment. A person, a board, some wax, and a wave. That's it. Body surfing is even more pure in this sense. Man and wave. Yet, there is a great gulf between those who merely do it, and those who do it with grace and skill. In the end, it's not the stuff; it's the man (or woman, I'm using "man" in that ungendered human being sense). Aimee just proofread this and suggested that it could sound like I"m suggesting that I'm skilled and graceful. That's not my intention, and so, with both skill and grace, I hereby proclaim the baseness of my skills. Someday I may achieve hard won grace.

I've long appreciated this about surfing, so I don't know why I got caught up in the "stuff" of kayaking, but I've recently decided to slough some of it off. Perhaps not permanently, or all the time, but most of the time. The last three trips I've taken (the last three consecutive Wednesdays) have all been familiar. I've paddled them at least once before. It's so much nicer to just pull up to the launch, drop the boat by the water, grab PFD, paddle, hat, and safety gear (bilge pump and paddle float) and go. No two or more trips to the car. Just get in the boat with the required stuff and go do what I'm really there for, which is commune with the world. Observe.

Today I sat in the middle of a school of tiny fish, a pod of dolphin 5 or 6 strong fed on whatever was feeding on the minnows, terns plummeted, and 3 manatees surfaced repeatedly mere feet away from me. That's why I'm out there.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Corporate Cup Challenge

The Great Bike Shop submitted a team to the Corporate Cup Challenge yesterday (local race to promote wellness in the office). Teams consisted of 4 people and four events (one per participant); kayak, bike, run, and strength. I did the kayak event; my first kayak race ever.

Rick from The Wilderness Way was there running the event, which used their boats (had to be shorter than 13'). I came in second in my heat, and fifth overall. The guy who won I know by reputation. I've never paddled with him before, but I have paddled with a pal of his and I found his regular pace to be my fast pace, so he won by almost a minute. They guy who beat me in my heat just out-muscled me. If the course had been longer I think I would have had him, but he was some kind of fitness trainer and stayed about a boat length ahead of me. JC got second in the bike and our runner got third in the run overall. No results yet but I think we're in good standing to place top three.

Attempted to hike to Shepherd Spring today, but had no map and ended up turning back a little short. Oh well, still a beautiful morning to be outside. Cheers.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Giant Turtle Shell

The unbearably hot weather has finally broken and it feels great outside. So this morning I paddled Wacissa headwaters. It was cool and overcast for the whole trip. Saw loads of birds like blue heron, little blue heron, great egret, snowy egret, tricolored heron, wood duck, white ibis, red shouldered hawk, common moorhen, kingfisher, and others. A family of river otter let me sneak up on them (to about 20'). When they finally noticed me they all stood up on their haunches and made a weird sort of coughing noise at me, then disappeared. I poked into several of the smaller springs on the E side of the river, so I saw about 5 in all, including Big Blue. Along one of the spring runs I noticed something huge and white just under the water, which turned out to be a big sunbleached and completely denuded turtle carapace (about 16" long x 13" wide). It's now drying out on the picnic table out back. A wildlife officer busted three guys hunting from a boat for something, and there were some nice folks on the river from Tampa who are on their annual N FL paddling trip. They spoke highly of the Blackwater River and Ti Ti and Whiskey George creeks. Perhaps I'll see them soon.