Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Growling Alligators

Today I learned that alligators growl. I launched the kayak at noon onto Lake Talquin, from High Bluff Landing on the N bank toward the E end of the lake, not that far from where I've previously launched at Coe Landing on the opposite shore. My intention was to paddle W to a large cove that is created where the Little River feeds into the lake, and then to paddle up the river for a few miles to the next access (MLK Blvd or SR 268, Mike). My book (Canoeing and Kayaking Florida by Carter & Molloy) suggests that it's a pretty tributary of the Ochlockonee and that "very large alligators have been sighted here." I didn't notice that large gator line until just now.

It was pretty overcast today, a little breezy, high in the mid-70's; a perfect day to paddle, I thought. At the launch there was an otter swimming around and staring at me unload my boat. I started W, hanging about 30' off the beach. About half a mile into the trip I heard this low, deep, guttural growling sound coming from the bank nearby. I couldn't tell if it was coming from the woods or the tall grassy swampy area in front of the woods. I stopped and listened and it kept sounding every 20 seconds or so. I didn't know what the hell to make of it; bear, bobcat, what? I spun around and paddled slowly in the direction of the noise, staying mindful of my distance from the treeline should a bear come flying out of the brush. When I was about 20' from the tall grass, something low lurched quickly and noisily forward, indicating a gator. I never saw it, but I backed off and headed on my way. I had no idea they could make that noise. A little research online returned this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCx8oFETyDQ

That was exactly the noise I heard. This is the wrong time of year for mating displays, so my guess is territory. Thing is, I've seen plenty of alligators, large and small. One friend suggested that I'm getting a little blase' about them. I've never heard this noise before. I didn't even know they made noises. It came from other places as well; either there was an echo on the lake or other gators were responding to this one's call (rather disconcerting). I saw a pretty big one a little further down, and the wind picked up enough to slap little waves into my beam. The combination of wind, chop, gloomy cloudy skies, and my perception that there were multiple large alligators all around me that were growling diminished my desire to carry on alone enough for me to call it quits. I know that it was probably fine, but no point in tempting fate and a possible future as alligator shit. I stroked back and loaded up. I spent the afternoon improving the garden and reading; very comfortable.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ochlockonee River, Tower Rd. to Old Bainbridge


I had some responsible adult stuff to take care of today, so after I got it done I rewarded myself with a kayak trip nearby on the Ochlockonee, from Tower Rd. up to Old Bainbridge and back. I've done the first two miles of this before. It's not a remarkable section of the river, but it was a really pretty day, highs in the lower 70's, blue skies, light wind, so it didn't really matter as long as I was on the water and enjoying the day. I saw alligators from 9' to 1' (the little fella was pretty funny looking), lots of turtles, turkey vultures, hawks (broadwinged?), juvenile white ibis, juvenile little blue heron, and an eastern kingbird. I got out at Old Bainbridge to stretch my legs and snack and noticed that there was a hog's head and feet sitting in the water right by the boat ramp, just a few inches under. It looked like it had been there a couple days. I'm surprised a gator hadn't drug it off to chew on. This section of the Ochlockonee is about 6 miles long, so I did 12 miles, in about 4 hours.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Torreya State Park

Aimee and I enjoyed the wonderful fall weather today by hiking at Torreya State Park, about an hour west of Tallahassee. It's pretty hilly by FL standards, with bluffs over the Apalachicola River. Not counting connectors (in blue above; map available at trailhead) there are about 14 miles of trails. We started from the picnic area and walked down to the stone bridge then hung a left (onto the orange trail) to start the loop on the left side of the map. We lunched at Rock Bluff Primitive Camp and then took the shortcut back to the car via the main road. It's crazy how much the flora changes. One minute it looks like Appalachia and then there are stands of Needle Palm (like palmetto) and bamboo. We saw deer, northern flickers, one bald eagle, and a ton of piliated, red-bellied, and other small woodpeckers. The flower below is called a blue curl; we found it in a sunny meadow/pine stand along with lots of other wildflowers. We're definitely going to make an overnight trip here soon. It was practically deserted and it was beautiful and there were nice amenities like stacked firewood near the campsites.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

In Other News...

...I've acquired a few new things that will compliment my paddling (and other outdoor pursuits) nicely. First, a Camelbak Unbottle, which is basically like one of the popular hydration backpacks, without the straps. Its designed to be strapped to a PFD or the deck of a kayak (where I used it today). I rather like it. At 70 oz capacity, it's plenty for a full day on the water without having to carry multiple smaller bottles. Details at http://www.camelbak.com/sports-recreation/hydration-packs/unbottle.aspx

Second, after paddling today we went to the local paddle shop, The Wilderness Way, which was quite conveniently located just a couple miles from the launch, where I purchased The National Audubon Society's Field Guide to Florida, which should help me ID the random plants and animals I come across in my wanderings. It's an overall sort of deal ("birds, animals, trees, wildflowers, insects, weather, nature preserves, and more"), so not too specific, but enough to get me pointed in the right direction in our new environment. N FL is different enough from NC to necessitate some ecological education.

Finally, I got us both USCG approved whistles, which makes us legal, and safer. I read recently of a Wisconsin man who went missing while kayaking on Lake Superior. He was apparently both skilled and experienced, which should serve as a reminder for the rest of us (http://www.northlandsnewscenter.com/news/local/65917347.html).

Wakulla River, and MANATEES!


Aimee and I paddled the Wakulla River (pronounced wuh-KUL-uh, or WAW-kul-uh, depending on the prominence of your southern accent) today. The Wakulla flows crystal clear from a massive spring (where there's a state park) to it's confluence with the St. Marks River about ten miles downriver, and then on to the Gulf of Mexico (all water around here goes to the Gulf of Mexico) just a few miles further downstream. We put in at the highest accessible point, which is CR 365, aka Shadeville Rd. Just above this access there is a fence down to the water level which prevents upstream travel (unless you're a fish, turtle, alligator, or manatee). The river is never more than a couple of miles from the St. Marks Bike Trail (which we've ridden and posted about). The bike trail ends at the same place the river does, the Town of St. Marks, which makes for a very convenient bike shuttle. I locked my bike up at the take out (San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park) and then drove back up to the launch. We were on the water a little after ten. There are occasional private docks, but houses are rarely visible, and due to the abundance of manatee on the river, all of the upper section is a no wake zone, so motorized traffic is a non-issue. Despite the minor intrusion of humanity on the banks, the river is beautiful. The forest is thick, the water clear blue-green. It's fairly small for the first few miles with lots of little cypress swamp islands. The cypress and cedars hang with Spanish Moss and palmettos blanket the floor. It's lovely. The next access is under US 98, where a livery operates (I gather that many people fore go the shuttle and put in at 98 and paddle upstream and float back down). After 98 the river opens up and gets pretty wide, which marsh on either side as a buffer between the river and forest. By the time you get to the take-out it's getting downright marshy.

The wildlife was great. There were a couple of broad winged hawks in our backyard this morning when I was loading, which I took for a (very non-superstitious) good omen. Just before we got to the launch we saw a (live) deer on the side of the road. This is a great birding river; we saw double-crested cormorant, anhinga, pied-billed grebe, osprey, eastern kingbird, great egret, great blue heron, little blue heron, yellow crowned night heron, piliated woodpecker, american crow, turkey vulture, misc. gulls, and even a bald eagle circling high overhead (unmistakable white head, black wings, white tail, and HUGE). There was an alligator or two, and raccoon on the banks. The highlight, and real reason for choosing this trip for today, were the manatee. The first ones we encountered a mile or so down from the launch, feeding on grass beds under water (there were two). They seemed completely unconcerned about us floating just a few feet overhead. Every once in a while they came up to breathe, and then went right back down to keep feeding. Another guy was a little further down. He had a tracking buoy attached to his tail and was easy to spot because it floated a few feet behind him when he was close to the surface. He swam along with us for quite a while, practically serving as our guide for the better part of a mile. A few others popped up to breathe once in a while. It was so cool. They were only a few feet away.
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Aimee with manatee in foreground. Her boat is 14'6" long.

My paddle blade in the frame, which indicates how close this big guy is.

We finally reached the takeout, where my bike was still safely locked up and untampered with. Aimee hung out and read while I pedaled 8 miles up the bike trail to pick up the truck. It was a nice ride. I'll definitely be doing more bike shuttles in the future. It was a great day on and off the water, and now I'm about to eat dinner (chicken stir-fry) and relax. Cheers.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pork Chops

Hot damn! We ate excellently tonight. Dinner consisted of: bone-in pork chops in herbal dry rub, seared and cooked to perfection in the cast-iron skillet, topped with sprigs of fresh rosemary (from our herb garden), apples and onions sauteed in brown sugar and butter, mustard greens boiled to death southern style complete with ham hock, and cornbread muffins (with an egg that came out of a chicken that will live it's whole life less than 30 miles from right here), washed down with Sailor Jerry's Rum and coke. I'm pretty proud of it. It was homey, but refined. If I'd paid good money in a fine restaurant for it I'd be singing its praises. And we ate it all out on the slab, by citronella candlelight.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Graham and Kennedy Creeks


Back on the water today courtesy of N FL paddler and bos'n, Michael (http://www.solitaireboats.com/). We had big plans to launch from Carrabelle down on the gulf and circumnavigate Dog Island, a smallish barrier island about 3 miles offshore and 6 miles long, but weather wasn't fully cooperative. The fog was thick and the forecast shaky, so we opted for more protected water in the Apalachicola National Forest not too far away. After discussing the options, he suggested that we knock down two interesting paddles that were a short drive away.

First was Graham Creek, which can be accessed right under CR 65 in the forest. It's a small blackwater (quite literally, the darkest water I've ever seen) creek on the edge of Tate's Hell State Forest that snakes through fascinating cypress/tupelo swamp on its way to the East River and then the Apalachicola River further downstream. The banks aren't really visible (though water was pretty high); there's just a tree-line that forms the edge of the creek. Michael said that when the flowers on the tupelo trees are in bloom you can hear the bees from a half mile away. The only wildlife we saw was a gator. He was big enough and moving fast enough that he made a wake. This one will be worth seeing again in the winter when all the leaves are off the trees and again in the spring when the trees bloom and the bees are in. We didn't go far because we wanted to spend the bulk of the day at the next spot, so we were on and off the water again in about an hour.

The second trip was on Kennedy Creek, another blackwater creek a little further up CR 65 and deeper in the forest. The launch is from a place called Cotton's Landing (there's signage) a few miles down dirt forest roads. Somewhere along the way to the Apalachicola River the flora shifts from the cypress/tupelo swamp seen previously on Graham to cypress/tupelo/pine/willow mixed forest more typical of other regional rivers I've seen so far. Near the mouth of the creek there are a few houseboats. We went into the river looking for sandbars to lunch on, but the water was so high (from all the recent rain in GA) that they were all submerged. We managed to find a spot on the opposing bank where we ate and rested for the trip back. Out and back was 12 miles (on Michael's GPS). A few birds: little blue heron, green heron, great egret, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, piliated woodpecker; I'm sure I'm forgetting some. A good trip and worth another look.

Despite being over twice my age and having children older than me, Michael's pace is fairly grueling. He called our pace today, "a little slow." I thought we were moving along pretty well. He's got a crew of like-minded paddlers that I'm hoping to join for a few trips, if I can keep up. We'll see.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ochlockonee Evening

I opted for a late trip today after yard and house work. I've been working my way up the Ochlockonee River from Lake Talquin, but I was stopped this last week by fallen trees obstructing the river within about a mile of the next launch at Tower Rd. Tower Rd is very conveniently located for us, about 5 miles away, so I figured I could put in and paddle down, perhaps to the same blockage that turned me around from the other end. I didn't make it quite that far, but I think I was close. It's an interesting little piece of river; there are lots of trees down under the surface of the water, so that the limbs climb straight up and the water flows around them. In places it's almost creepy looking. When I got to the first area that I couldn't really paddle through (it's an easy portage though, over a sandbar on the bank) I worked on it with hand-saw and garden shears and cleared a little, but I realized that I'll need better tools, or more people to help, or more time to really get anywhere with it. The trees that have lain there for a while have had all of their soft wood worn away by the sun and wind and water, leaving just the hardest densest portions. So a branch the size of a forearm looks pretty easy, but it's so damn dense, you've got to work pretty hard to get through. Not wanting to kill my evening huffing and sweating alone in the woods to no avail, I decided to paddle back upstream past the launch to the railroad bridge that's just below Monroe St. where it crosses the river. This also is an interesting piece of river, alternating between long straight sections and twisting meanders. There are some really crazy cypress formations along the rather high banks (partly because the water is low and what's usually under is now exposed). Lots of white sandbars for resting or camping. Because of the downed trees, you can't really put a motor boat on that river right now, so it was very quiet, and I didn't see another soul on the water (but I also didn't cover much area either, about 4 miles, 1 down from the launch and 3 up). Despite the proximity to civilization, it feels pretty remote. I'll use this paddle as the quick and easy one when I just need to get out on the water and think or don't have time for a real excursion.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Old Books


Aimee brought home a couple of volumes tonight (for research in her Victorian Lit class), of Cornhill Magazine, an English publication, from 1870 and 1894 respectively. While those are the dates of publication , it's not immediately clear when they were bound, and thus how old the books we now have in our house are. They are obviously very old though. If they were bound within a short period of publication, which would have been normal, then the books in my living room right now are quite ancient by our standards, and it's remarkable to hold them. The older was published when Ulysses Grant was president. We were in the midst of Reconstruction. The Civil War was only recently finished. As for the second volume, Grover Cleveland was president, Hawaii was not yet a territory, and America was still a backwater. So much has happened while these bound volumes of pulp sat safely on shelves that the world would be barely recognizable to period readers of the time. They have a wonderful musky smell that that feels like history itself, and a satisfying heft. The leather binding is cracked and one turns pages gently, lest they break and fall out. Just think about it for a moment; to hold a snapshot of culture from the world as it was in 1870...no WW1, no WW2, no automobile or airplane, an America less than 100 years old, cowboys, Indians, the birth of baseball, 40 acres and a mule, and so on. That is an amazing thing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ochlockonee River, US 90 to Tower Rd


I was thrilled this morning to find the air a little chilly, as the weather finally has a little feel of fall in it in North Florida (high of 82 today, 92 yesterday; a considerable improvement). To celebrate the cooler weather, I paddled the Ochlockonee solo again today. I put in at my turn-around point last week, under US 90 (Tennessee St.) and paddled N, with the intention of going all the way to the next put in, but I was stopped by felled trees about a mile from the end, and thus stopped short. The launch is fine, public boat ramp under the overpass. As soon as the sound of the traffic on 90 faded the sound of traffic on I-10 became audible upstream. There were men working on the bridge, breaking large chunks of concrete off the railing which plopped loudly in the water beneath them. Despite this intrusion (the sound of traffic), which faded quickly then, this section of the Ochlockonee is actually quite beautiful. After I-10 I never saw another soul until I got back there; there's no development, and it feels very remote. There are lots of willow trees (I think) and cypress, pine, and palmetto (note to self: get a FL flora book). I used my little saw on the leatherman to clear some small paths through the tops of trees that had fallen over the river, but when I reached the point seen below, I called it and turned around. There were several alligators, ranging from small to large, and belted kingfishers, green heron, little blue heron, vulture, ducks, anhinga, and woodpeckers. Wrestling with the trees showered me with little spiders, so I found a sandy beach to de-spider on and eat lunch. There are several sandbars on this section that are good for that sort of thing, which is a nice change from the previous section (US 90 to Lake Talquin). Estimating my turn-around on Google Earth, I think I made it about 4 miles upriver before I turned around, so 8 total, in about 3.5 hours. It was really a nice paddle, despite the the road noise at the start, and it'll be worth putting in at Tower Rd. and paddling down to see if I can work a clear path through with shears and a real saw.
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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lake Talquin/Ochlockonee River


I finally made it back out on the water today, opting for something closer to our side of Tallahassee than what I've previously done. Lake Talquin (so named for Tallahassee and Quincy) was formed when the Ochlockonee River (pronounced ok-LOK-uh-nee) was dammed, and is thus fed by the river at one extremity, and drained at the other, roughly 15 miles SW. I launched from the quiet public ramp at Coe Landing Rd, about twenty minutes from home, and paddled E toward the river. The most interesting thing about this paddle is that in the space of six miles you're in a lake, a freshwater marsh (where the river opens into the lake), and a blackwater river. I poked through the marshy area (good birding) into the river and went up to the bridge where US 90 crosses, which is about 6 miles upstream from the launch at Coe Landing. I wondered briefly if I would have a hard time getting back through the marsh to the lake, as there are myriad ways of doing it and it's easy to get disoriented (follow the current), but it was no problem. The banks often consist of white sand, but there aren't many places to stop and get out, as they're either high or overgrown with vegetation. The plants in this area are a blend between tropical (palm, palmetto, huge leaved things) and what I was used to in SE NC (pine, cypress, cedar), which is interesting. I saw two small gators and one very large one. As for birds, there were anhinga, cormorant, great blue heron, little blue heron (adult and juvenile), great egret, green heron, osprey, some hawks that circled like vultures (I've got to learn my buteos), white ibis, florida gallinule (common moorhen), and others. There were lots of very large osprey (or maybe even bald eagle) nests in the marshy section worth checking again in the spring. All told I covered twelve miles out and back in about 4 hours.
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One of the little guys

Monday, September 7, 2009

Upper St. Marks River


Aimee and I paddled the upper section of the St. Marks River this morning. The put-in/take-out is just beyond the Natural Bridge Battlefield State Park. The spot we used was immediately past the park, but there's a better one just a little further up. The trip is supposed to be 2.5 miles upriver to Horn Springs and back, for a total of 5 miles, but we weren't able to get to the springs due to rather large trees that have fallen across the river. We portaged around the first one (somewhere around 2 miles up), and quickly encountered another. We were looking for a short easy paddle today (thus the choice of this one), so we decided to call it quits and float back. Someone suggested that the hunting club that owns the adjacent land cut a few trees to limit access by paddlers. It's going to take a good bit of work to get all the way through. Next time I'll take a handsaw so I can at least clear some OK portages and deal with brushy blockages, but the trees aren't coming out of there without a chainsaw and a lot of hard work, so I'll let them be. Despite not making it to the springs, we still had a nice time. The river isn't very wide, ranging 15'-35' across, running through remote cypress/pine forest with dense undergrowth (a lot of palmetto). We didn't see any wildlife besides a couple of birds, but there were a lot of animal droppings where we portaged and it was very undeveloped, so the potential is there. I want to see a bear. It's a nice spot for a short paddle, but be prepared for the portages/haulovers. I'm going to wait for cooler weather to thin the vegetation and then see if I can get all the way up. There were lots of spiders strung up in the overhanging branches. Cheers.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Wakulla Beach

Paddled this afternoon with new friends, Zach and Ellen (via Brooke), in the marshes at Wakulla Beach, which is a little west of St. Marks. The "beach" is at the end of a long unpaved road through beautiful St. Marks Refuge forest off of the Coastal Hwy. At the end there's a small lot and a sandy water access that's about 40' long. It looks a lot like the Basin at Fort Fisher (for you folks back home). From here you launch into a big shallow bay with numerous marsh creeks and little marsh islands. The water is brownish, but alive with mullet and something else that was feeding on schools of fish from below. We poked into a couple of creeks and then paddled back across the bay. Along the way I saw some gulls, great egrets, osprey, black crowned night heron, and willet. Something bigger than a mullet made a huge splash, but all we saw was the splash, so who knows. On the sand road out of there I saw a big snake, which I'm pretty sure was an Eastern Diamondback Rattler, but I didn't get a photo so I'm not %100. It was at least 3' long. I stopped and stared, but veered safely around him so he could go about his business. It was a pretty short paddle, but entirely worthwhile because they showed me a launch that has several trip options from short forays to as far as you want to go, and I got to paddle with nice people who will hopefully become folks we can trip with regularly.

The rest of the day was spent putting tricolor sage, silver thyme, and garlic in the herb garden, reading, cutting my hair, and hanging with Aimee. Tomorrow we're paddling the short upper section of the St. Marks River from the Natural Bridge to Horn Springs. I'll post the results. Cheers.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Guns, Germs, and Steel


Read it. It's quite digestible and informative. Here's my quick synopsis:

Diamond is an evolutionary ornithologist who spends a lot of time in New Guinea. An indigenous New Guinean man asks him one day why Diamond's people, meaning people of European ancestry, have so much cargo (stuff), while his people (and by extension the rest of the colonized or formerly colonized world) have so little. He thinks about it for twenty years, and this book is his attempt to answer the question. In a very simplistic form, his answer is this: geography. Eurasia had the good luck to have an east-west orientation in which there is less climatic variance than is found on north-south oriented continents (the Americas and Africa). Additionally, Eurasia possessed abundant natural resources which included plants that were both nutritious and domesticable, large mammals that were domesticable, and the minerals that could be manipulated into metal tools and weapons. Plants that could be domesticated and were nutritionally rich enough to supplant hunter/gatherer lifestyles led to settled and semi-settled populations and a food surplus. A food surplus frees members of said society from the otherwise constant duty of feeding themselves and allows them to become specialists in other things, which leads to innovation (in things like metal tools, weapons, and writing). East-west orientation means that new knowledge in farming is easy to transmit over a landmass because the climate is more constant and in Eurasia there are fewer geographical barriers (like the Andes or the Isthmus of Panama) to inhibit the flow of information and technology. Settled populations with access to domesticable mammals learn to use those animals and therefore live in close proximity to them, which leads to the germs that infect those animals eventually learning to infect humans too (which is where we get the flu and all of the other modern and historical epidemics). Those humans develop resistance to those diseases. So by the premodern period we have cultures in Eurasia (like the Spanish, English, Dutch, and French, among others) who have the good fortune of centuries, millenia, of information passed along to the from the trials and errors of their ancestors, writing to pass information along with, a host of diseases and resistance to many of them, metals that have been shaped into swords and guns and armor, domesticated horses to ride into and out of battle or to carry information quickly over long distances, and food enough to supply (with varying degrees of success) long open ocean voyages of discovery. Transport those people to other parts of the world, where large mammals succumbed to quick extinction upon the arrival of humans that they hadn't evolved to fear and thus were easy dinners, and were therefore without animal borne disease or resistance to it. Diamond estimates that 95% of the pre-1492 population of the New World was killed by disease before they every saw a white man. They had much less advanced metallurgical technology with which to defend themselves, and thus the survivors of the sicknesses had to contend with guns and steel swords and armor with wood and bone weapons. This is why the Incans were subdued by the Spanish rather than the other way around. Diamond expressly dismisses any notion of racial superiority. He points out that people, the world over, have become adept at surviving and even thriving in the geographical and natural situations in which they have developed. Most of us would die if we were suddenly dropped in the Congo or New Guinean rain forests, where those respective peoples have managed to live for thousands of years.

So that's the meat of it. I just reduced a four hundred page book to a few hundred words, so of course you can poke holes in it. But Diamond makes a good case for his theory while recognizing that he is, himself, spending 400 pages on the whole of human history, and thus necessarily simplifies. On the whole, though, I'd say he's got it right. In any case, you'll learn a lot about the world by reading it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

St. Marks Trail


Aimee and I biked the St. Marks Trail (SMT) this morning from the "trail-head" on Woodville Hwy to the town of St. Marks and back, about 16 miles each way. The trail is part of FL's Rails to Trails program and actually begins in town very near the FSU campus and proceeds S to the point where we accessed it. It's a nice little lot with restroom facilities and a bike wash. The trail is very flat (3' elevation change on the section we did), reasonably smooth, and mostly straight. It runs alongside the highway, but there's often enough of a forest barrier to obscure the sight and sounds of the roadway. On the way we passed several cow and horse pastures and through lots of pine forest. We saw 5 red headed woodpeckers in one copse of trees and a pretty big deer. We stopped at San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park at the end to snack and rest up for the return trip. The area, which is at the confluence of the St. Marks and Wakulla rivers, was utilized by Spaniards in 1528 as the first site of non-native shipbuilding in the New World. It has been the site of numerous wood and stone forts, belonged to Spain, then England, then the US, then Florida, was controlled briefly by Andrew Jackson, and was used by Confederate soldiers to keep the Union blockade from moving any further upriver (Tallahassee was the only state capitol east of the Mississippi River not to fall to the Union). Now it's a quiet grassy area with ruins, picnic tables, and a public water access (that I'll be using shortly, despite the pesky $5 launch fee). After wandering around a bit, we rode thru St. Marks (not much to it, and not all that charming really) and then biked back up the trail to the car. All said we went about 33 miles (Aimee's longest ride yet). We started at 8:30 and got back around noon. Now resting and reading. Cheers.
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Locust menage a trois

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Figs

Figs are in right now at the local grocery store. Buy one get one free, in fact. So we've been sampling the biblical fruit. One of the last meals we had in Wilmington was served by our friends Colin and Barb, and was begun with a plate of figs wrapped in prosciutto, which was delicious. Right now we're snacking on fresh figs stacked with prosciutto and blue cheese, which really ties the flavors together and is very fricking good, while we sip peach lambic beer and make the main course, lemon pepper chicken with roasted potatoes, small onions roasted in balsamic, olive oil and sea salt, and a salad. It's a nice way to end the day. Tomorrow we're biking the St. Mark's Trail. I'll post on it. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

St. Marks River, US 98 to Springs

OK, I can't seem to find the words to write this trip report with any poetry, so I'll just stick to facts. Paddled solo yesterday on the upper section of the St. Marks River, launching under and returning to the bridge on US 98. On the water around ten. 6.5 miles upriver/up-current through remote forest to some houses at the N end, where the otherwise narrow waterway opens and expands to several hundred yards wide. At this point the river goes underground and reemerges a little further N. There were loads of birds in this open marshy area, as well as bulls foraging and feeding on the water grass in the knee high water. Took a short break to eat a peach and some nabs, splash some water on my face, then float the current back to the launch. Almost 5 hours on the water, about 13 miles covered. Pretty trip, but kind of unremarkable aside from the completely unexpected siting of four huge bulls with 2' horns that I had to paddle within 30' of. I only saw one alligator, and it was small. Good birds in the open area, but little on the trip up.

After the trip I stopped at The Wilderness Way to inquire about a guide book to help trip planning. When I asked the proprietress, Georgia, how tidal the St. Marks River is, she replied, "very." I had launched on a mid falling tide, and thus fought the worst of the current as the force of the normal flow of the river coincided with the pull of all that water trying to get to the Gulf of Mexico just a few miles further downriver. My return was all with current, but it had slowed substantially as the incoming pushed against the normal outward flow, and was thus not the torrent I had expected to carry me home. Still, my return took half the time as my ascent. Next time I'll start the trip with the last hour or so of the incoming tide and return on the falling. The book was out of stock, but expected in later this week, so hopefully I'll have one soon. It's a good paddle shop and I'll be happy to get information and other paddling needs there.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Options

I've got the day off tomorrow, so I'm trying to figure out where I want to paddle. Not that there's a shortage of options; there's a ton of possibilities. But I don't know anything about any of them. In NC I was familiar enough with local waters to choose a trip based on the local weather, wind strength and direction, tide, and my mood. Too many consecutive trips on the river sent me back to the marsh. Too much time in the marsh sent me looking for blackwater trips; and so on. Sometimes I wanted to do things I hadn't done much like paddle into the ocean, and other times I wanted something comfortable and familiar like looking for birds in the waterways behind WB. Furthermore, a fact I've long been very aware of and grateful for, I had paddling friends with loads of experience in regional waters. When I had a day off, I would look at the weather, consider what I wanted to do, and plan a trip. Or the Geezer would call me and say "Hey, the tide looks good for X, let's go." I was rarely disappointed. Right now I have neither the experience to choose a trip based on its character, nor a friend to advise me. Of course, these things will come with time, but in the meantime it makes my trip selection somewhat arbitrary. So I'm sitting here with my Florida Gazetteer and Google Earth trying to figure out the best trip. It's looking to be a launch in the gulf village of St. Marks, which will give me a choice of three directions: up the St. Marks River to the St. Marks Spring, up the Wakulla River towards its spring, or down the St. Marks River into the Gulf of Mexico, where'd I poke around in the marshes around the rivermouth. I'll shoot from the hip.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wacissa River Headwaters


We FINALLY got to get out and paddle this wonderfully cool morning, after a little more than two weeks of the seemingly endless process of settling into a new house and town. For the first excursion I chose the Wacissa River (pronounced wah-SIS-uh), which is a pretty short spring fed river typical of this part of FL, roughly 30 mins from Tallahassee. The parking lot was nearly empty when we got there to unload the boats at the headwaters. We paddled S from the launch, pulled into a small creek or two looking for a place called Big Blue Spring, which we found, and then downriver about 3 miles to a small river island called Cedar Island, which we did a little loop around and paddled against the light current back to the launch. Big Blue is a huge azure hole in the earth that is about 45' deep, with precipitous walls that seem to go straight down. There are two swimming platforms, but we didn't use them this time. The water is about 70 degrees year round, so I'll be using it again to escape from the heat down here. The two most striking things about the trip were the water clarity (crystalline) and the wildlife, especially the birds. We saw great egret, tons of snowy egrets, great blue heron, little blue heron, tricolored heron, green heron, white ibis, swallow-tailed kite, common moorhen, American coot, kingfishers, cormorant, anhinga, osprey, ducks, a hawk, and probably, but not positively, a purple gallinule. We also saw plenty of Suwanee Cooters (turtle) and one little gator. Aside from Big Blue, opportunities to get out of the boat were non-existent, so we were both glad to get back to the lot at the end after over 3 hours in the cockpit. It got warm, but it's really not too bad today, even as I type this in mid-afternoon it's not that bad outside. Now we're going to work in the yard and do standard Sunday stuff like read and nap. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

First Bike Ride in Tally

This morning I undertook my first commute by bike in my new city. I hadn't done it yet because I was trying to figure out a good route. Again, it seems that I was a little spoiled back in Wilmington. My ride there was slightly less than 4 miles, almost entirely on quiet residential roads that were designated bike routes, with negligible elevation change (due to the coastal plain). Here, it's almost 7 (which is fine, 4 wasn't really enough), on busier roads, with a lot of hills to climb (about 130' in elevation change). I'm definitely not used to hills. There were a couple on my route that were very long, at least by my standards. I finally figured a way to the shop that is almost all on roads with bike lanes or residential. Unfortunately, I only got to go one way, as there is an evening thunderstorm around 6 pm every fricking day right now which is really starting to piss me off. My boss says that this weather pattern will change soon and the riding will be great. I hope so. In any case, the more arduous ride is a good thing. It's better for me that way. And along the way I pass a meat market and an old man selling produce out of his garage. Cheers.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tallahassee

If you know me, or you've paid attention to the little hints, you know that I've been planning a move to Tallahassee, Florida, for some time. I'm following my girlfriend, Aimee, who starts a Ph.D. program in a couple of weeks at FSU.

So now I'm in N FL. I'm very sad to leave my friends and paddling partners and waterways of SE NC. But in the trade I get a whole new set of creeks, rivers, and open water (the Gulf this time) to explore. I hope that those of you who were kind enough to leave nice comments or check regularly will continue to do so, even though you don't stand to learn anything new about paddling in the Cape Fear region. Maybe you'll learn some of the same things I'll learn about paddling and biking here in the panhandle of Florida. So far it's pretty good, though I've been too busy unpacking and getting settled and starting a new job to hit the water yet. I've got a couple of trips planned though, and I'm stoked to meet people and find new water down here.

I know it might seem like a bit much, but Aimee and I decided that the easiest way to keep friends and family abreast of us is to make a new blog about the house and what we do with it. You can see it at 4032elderlane.blogspot.com.

Here's a photo of our new hanging herb garden:





Parsley, Chives, Spearmint, and Basil

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I AM a Monkey's Uncle!

A few months ago I posted about soon becoming an uncle. It's been my most popular post to date. Today I actually became Muncle Josh (see the previous post for that explanation). Here he is, little baby Max:


And here's a photo of a baby monkey:

See the family resemblance?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Google Earth


Google Earth is an awesome tool for lots of things. I like to use it to find new routes, see where random creeks eventually end up, and keep track of where I've been. When I started this blog I also started logging my paddling trips on Google Earth, mapping them out and using the ruler to figure out how far I went. Now the image is covered with lines and it's neat to look at it and see everywhere I've been. Above is Wrightsville Beach with some of my trips mapped. The white lines represent aproximations of where I went. I've been into many a little creek that isn't indicated on there, so it's still not complete, but you get the general picture. I guess it's a little OCD, but I think it's cool, so what the hell?

Marsh

I paddled with some of my old SMKC folks today in a super high tide and increasing wind. It was Aimee and I, Colin and Barb, Geezer, Brooke, and a friend of hers. We launched at Jasmine and fought the current S down Bank's Channel to Shinn's and then flowed thru Hidden Creek to the old dredge spoil, where we stopped for a break. We walked all the way to the other side and enjoyed the elevated view. Geezer showed us a fox den he'd come across and we found a couple of sand dollars. It was blazing hot on there. Back on the water and to the takeout. On the water a little over two hours. Then we all cleaned up and went to Incredible Pizza for their killer $5.99 lunch special (a personal pizza, salad, and drink). It was gooooood. Now we're packing for our upcoming move, which is kind of sad, but exciting to go somewhere new too. Cheers

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Handsome Fellers...


Look at 'em. Me with Geezer (still sporting his SMKC gear) and Sharkbait at my Bon Voyage party this past Sunday evening. There's almost 50 years of SE NC paddling experience in this photo. Those boys are two of my favorite people, on and off the water.
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Geezer's response when he saw this photo was "How come I'm the only one that looks half in the bag?"
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I reckon I look a bit loose myself.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pound Cake II

Tonight we had fish tacos with Mr. Geezer and his lovely and charming lady. The fish was cod, breaded in panko and topped with a cabbage/cilantro/lime juice/zest mixture, fresh tomatoes, cheese, and secret cream cheese sauce on corn or flour tortillas with side of black beans and queso fresco. For desert we served the pound cake again, toasted as before, with vanilla ice cream, but this time with crushed raspberries. Once again, it was friggin' delicious. Man, what would life be like without good friends and good food? I don't want to know.

Find some people whose company you enjoy and share some good food and drink with them.

Cheers.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pound Cake

Aimee and I had the good fortune to dine at Colin and Barb's last night, where we ate crab cakes, corn on the cob, and good bread (among other things). We brought the desert, which was my mom's pound cake (a real no-shit true to the name pound cake, I believe), which we toasted and topped with vanilla ice cream and ripe nectarine slices tossed in fresh chopped mint and a wonderfully thick balsamic vinegar that was bottled in 1975 (if you're saying "wow!", I was too). It was amazing. There was universal agreement that mom's was "the best pound cake I've ever had." Which brings me back to a friendly argument I had with my good pal Wildwoman (a pseudonym, some will know, some will not) some two years ago, in which we both insisted that our respective family matrons made the best pound cake. Her's was made by her grandmother, and while I'm sure that it was fabulous, I submit as evidence the testimony of Colin, Barb, and Aimee that my mom's is the best pound cake that has ever graced the South. Originally I had placed my grandmother's cake against her grandmother's, but my grandmother has quit making pound cake because she recognizes the superiority of my mom's and feels she can't compete, so that's where the argument lays.

It was hilarious when it happened, because it went something like this:

Wildwoman: My grandma's pound cake is the best ever.
Josh: No it isn't, because my grandmother's pound cake is the best.
Wildwoman: Everybody in (insert god-forsaken little rural NC town) knows that my grandmother made the best pound cake in the land.
Josh: Well they're all wrong, because everybody in my town knows that my grandmother's pound cake is the best.
Wildwoman: Well I guess we'll never find out, because my grandmother is dead.
Josh: Then I guess I win, because mine isn't. (Don't worry, it's cool, we have that kind of friendship.)

The customer who observed this exchange was thoroughly dumbfounded. It was really funny.

So, not that I love to kick the shit out of dead horses, but my mom's pound cake is better than my grandmothers. Therefore, my mother's pound cake is better than Wildwoman's grandmother's.

My logic is Fort Knox-like, no?

While I may have the best pound cake in my family, Wildwoman has a respectable advantage on the homestead farming front. Check out her blog at: http://bluefieldacres.blogspot.com/

As for the future of this pound cake discussion, I'm quoting Julius Caesar upon his crossing of the Rubicon on his way to becoming the head of the Roman Empire: "Alea iacta est."

Do your worst, Wildwoman. Do your worst.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Longboat Surf Session


I paddled with some CFPA folks (Rezac, Layne, and a nice couple from the mountains) from Trail's End to Masonboro this morning. Launched about 2 hours before high tide, 10 mph W wind, not too hot. Through the marsh via a pretty small creek to the island. After checking conditions and a little swimming/bodysurfing, I decided to carry my boat over and try a little ocean side paddling. Chris joined me, which I was glad for because he's very competent and while the conditions were great for my first surf launch/land with small 2' waves, it didn't hurt to have some supervision and someone to ask questions on technique. The launch went fine, paddled over a couple small waves and I was out (this wasn't a big accomplishment, it was small and breaking close to shore). I stayed just outside the surf zone and paddled for waves. Most of them I caught unbroken and just sort of got a short little fast ride, but on 2 or 3 I was able to ride in roughly to same position I would on my longboard, as far as where I was positioned on the wave. I'm tentatively pleased with the Tracer's handling in the surf, as it caught waves fine and even handled pretty well. I never got flipped, even when the waves closed out and broke over my bow. I just braced and leaned into the wave until it passed me and spun around to go back out. We played around for 20 mins or so, and then I decided to attempt the landing. I waited for a break between the small set waves and caught a little one in, braced into the shorebreak, popped my skirt and jumped out in a few inches of water and pulled the boat up, basically dry. It went fine. Afterwards we messed around a little while longer and then paddled back to Trail's End, arriving around noon. It was a fun time and a good first experience riding waves and launching and landing in the surf zone. Thanks to Chris for posting the trip and answering my questions. Cheers.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Bright Shining Lie


Today is the day that I will finish the 792 page Pulitzer Prize winning book by Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie, which endeavours to explain the American involvement and subsequent failure in SE Asia through the vehicle of John Paul Vann, first a military advisor and then pacification director who spent a decade in country until he was ultimately killed at the end of our involvement in a helicopter crash (wow, that's one hell of a sentence). It's been very good, and very informative, but I'm excited to move on to something else now, as I feel like I've been reading this book for a long time. I'm off to work now, but there's only 19 pages left, so I've got a date with the end this evening. Cheers.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Poor Masonboro

This photo was taken by a Star-News (the local paper) photographer on either Sunday or Monday. It doesn't matter what day it was taken, because it's absolutely fucking absurd on any day at all, ever. I don't know of words strong enough to express my anger and confusion at this sight. What the hell is wrong with you people? Every year on the 4th of July every tool in NC gets in his powerboat/jetski/partybarge and takes his idiot ass and all of his idiot friends over to Masonboro Island, which is a beautiful place that's protected by numerous laws, to drink cheap beer out of styrofoam coolers and celebrate with all the other shitheads. This happens every year, and afterwards we always look at the photos and say "Gosh, that sure is awful that they trash it like that." And then we act like nobody can do anything about it. Bullshit. We need to get on the horn to every organization that has pull over there and demand that this problem be dealt with. If that means policing the island and no beer for a weekend, OK. Great. Problem solved. I don't care what we do; stone people who litter, whatever, but I know that this shit has to stop.


End rant. Sorry about the language, but I'm not mitigating it because it's an accurate representation of how I feel.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Kure Beach Double Sprint Results and Reflections


Race #3 completed this morning. I was up at 4:30 to load the car and get some oatmeal and coffee down before leaving. I got to KB just before 6, got my timing chip and marked (they write your bib number on your arms and legs), and headed to the bike transition area for tech support. Tech support was the usual pumping up tires. It's sort of amazing to me that triathletes aren't generally more bike savvy. I'm no genius, but I can pump up a tire. I was on the beach by 7:45 to set up my beach transition area before the 8 am start time. This race is unusual in that there are two transition areas rather than one. The beach TA is used for transitioning from the swim to run, and then back from run to swim at the end of the race. There I place a bucket of water to rinse my feet, my running shoes, and socks. The bike TA just housed my bike and helmet. I didn't get really nervous until right before the race, which went like this:

Swim 1 (375 meters): The water temp is a very comfortable 80 degrees. The wind wasn't bad, and the Frying Pan Shoals buoy predicted 2' at 7 secs, so I planned on decent swim conditions. Despite this, there was a fair amount of chop on the water, and the waves were 2-3'. I still had my best race swim yet though. I was in the second wave, which started at 8:04. My coworker Covi and I stood at the back of the pack to avoid being run over by better athletes. At the buzzer we all ran out into the water and started pushing through until it was about waist deep, which was a bit out. I think there was a little bit of a rip, because before I knew it I was rounding the first buoy. I still sidestroked a lot, but there was more crawling than previously, so that's good. I eventually made it back onto the beach, where I dragged my ass through the soft sand to the TA, dropped my swim cap and goggles in my water bucket to await my return, and put on my running shoes.

Run 1 (1.5 miles): I'm a slow runner, especially after a swim. My legs felt like dead weight. It got better the further along I went. There were lots of nice folks standing on their lawns (the run went through a residential area) cheering us on and spraying hoses into the street for anyone who wanted to cool off. It was a very hot run. Volunteers did a good job distributing water at 3 or 4 points on the run course. Covi and I ran the last half mile or so together. Arrived at bike TA and slapped my helmet on.

Bike (20k or 12 miles): The bike course was almost perfectly flat and smooth and very fast. It ran out and back in 3 mile legs, and so was done twice to get in the full 12 miles. Heading out there was a little headwind, but not bad. Covi and I jockeyed for position. A lot of people passed me. I drank my bottle with electrolyte replacement and snacked on GU Chomps. Overall the bike went pretty well, but there isn't a lot to say about it. I checked my computer when I got home and I averaged 19 mph (its probably a little higher because my ride to and from the TA and any walking around with the bike is included in that average). The bike is still my favorite part. Into the TA, racked the bike and stowed my helmet.

Run 2 (1.5 miles): Out of the TA and back to the water the way we came originally. Not far into this run I had to stop and stretch my legs for a minute, which wasn't good for the rest of my race. Second run was hotter, because the sun climbed higher while I was biking, and there wasn't much breeze in that neighborhood. Finally got back to the beach, stripped the shoes and socks and picked up my cap and goggles, which I put on as I ran up the beach to the swim start (about 250 yards on soft sand, brutal).

Swim 2 (375 meters): I kept telling myself that the last swim would go fine, and mostly it did. It felt sooo good to get in the cool water. Once again I was around the first buoy in no time at all. I sidestroked very little this time, I think because my nerves were settled and I was almost done. Usually the swim is first and I think I get psyched out by the fact that I'm racing and swimming in the ocean. This time I relaxed and just freestyled along at a comfortable pace, breathing every other stroke and checking my heading every now and then. I felt cramps looming in my legs, so I trying not to use them too much. They set in after I rounded the second buoy and turned towards shore. At first it hurt a lot, but it didn't really matter because part of my swim training has been with a float in the pool so that I don't use my legs at all and I use my upper body to pull through the water. But when I got to where I could put my feet down I did so because I was exhausted, which exacerbated the cramps. I bodysurfed in as much as I could, but I had to run up the beach about 20' to the finish line, which was very hard and very painful because my thighs were locked up in a continuous cramp. Still, I managed across and just got out of the way and started rubbing the muscles to relax them. I hobbled over to a water table and sat down and kept massaging my thighs and drinking water until I could walk.

Then I was done. I got my stuff and packed up and drove home.

Results:
Swim 1 (375 meters): 11:00
Run 1 (1.5 miles): 15:11
Bike (20k or 12 miles): 36:14
Run 2 (1.5 miles): 16:33
Swim 2 (375 meters): 13:46
Total Time: 1:32:42
Place Overall Men's: 229/289
Place Men 30-34: 32/33
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Still not last in my age group! Not the improvement I was hoping for, but that's ok. TRAIN HARDER. This may have been my last tri for this year. We're moving to FL in August. So now I'll go into a long term training mode, and hopefully by the time I pick it back up again I'll have something to show for it. Either way I'm having fun and getting fit.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Kure Beach Double Sprint Triathlon

Sunday morning I'll be in my third race, the Kure Beach Double Sprint. Once again, the format is a little unique. It begins with a 375 meter ocean swim, then a 1.5 mile run, a 12 mile bike, another 1.5 mile run, and finishes with a repeat of the swim. It's called a double sprint, but the distances are actually the same, so it's really just a normal sprint with more transitions and wacky order. I've been training with some intensity, so I'm feeling pretty good about it. Right now they're calling for warm weather, light offshore breeze, and small seas, which is good for me. I'll post my thoughts on the race on Sunday afternoon/evening.

Good luck to folks paddling around Bald Head tomorrow. I'd join you if I weren't racing the next day. Cheers.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Geezer's Exercise Loop


Today I paddled with the Geezer again. We did his fitness loop, which begins at Wynn Plaza at WB and heads N up Lee's Cut to the ICW to Shinn's and back up Bank's Channel, with the option of going out Masonboro Inlet, which we took. We took a short break at the swimming hole to refuel, put a skirt on, and practice a re-entry or two. Then we fought the current out (incoming mid-tide). At the end of the jetties I decided that it was rough enough for me there without heading out, so I waved Mike on and he did the trip around the sea buoy while I screwed around in the chop at the mouth of the inlet. The wind was pretty stiff from the S, and there's a few feet of swell in the water (boding well for my early morning surf sesh tomorrow), so it was pretty rockin' out there. Mike told me after that he wouldn't have gone out in a decked boat either (he paddled a surf ski). We didn't see any remarkable wildlife (pelicans, terns, gulls, oystercatchers, and great egrets all made appearances), but it was a good trip due to company and the challenging conditions. Paddling twice in as many days; that's pretty good. If I get some quality waves in the morning I'm going to call this week very successful. About 8 miles in ~ 3 hours? Cheers.

Night Mission on the Cape Fear


On a recent evening walk along the riverfront near our house I observed how lovely and smooth the water looked at the end of the day once the wind calmed and the air cooled off. I thought it would be great to do some sunset paddling, especially since the put-in is so close to where I live. I mentioned it to the Geezer and he said that he'd been wanting to do that for a long time and had just never gotten around to it. So we hatched a plan to look for the right night, and last night worked.

I got off work at 6, rode my bike home, and loaded my gear on the car for the 6 block drive to the launch (I know, driving 6 blocks is a little ridiculous, but it's too much to carry that far solo and I don't have a paddle cart). We were on the water a little after 7. Tide was about two hours into falling and the breeze was light out of the S. We paddled against the current about 3 miles up river to an old rice marsh and explored that a bit. The tide was ripping out of there, so the paddle out of the marsh was fun because we were really hauling ass. The grass in there is really high, almost double the height of cordgrass at the beach. At one point there was a loud noise, like something crashing through the marsh right next to us. I thought that a gator would come flying out at me at any second, but it ended up being birds lifting out of the grass. It's amazing how much noise little creatures can make (ever thought there was a bear running through the woods only to discover it was just a squirrel?). As we got out of the marsh and back into the river for the return trip, the last light was just disappearing, and we were soon in complete dark. It was really nice and the lights twinkled and the air was cool. There was almost no boat traffic. When we got back towards town we paddled along the edge of the riverwalk. Wilmington is a pretty town from the water. It was funny to watch people react to us. Due to current we were moving pretty fast, so to them it must have seemed like these two people in boats just appeared from nowhere, silently gliding by, and then disappeared back into gloom.

We got off the water around 9:30. We covered around 8 miles. It was a really good time and I'm looking forward to doing it again soon.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fun Day


Last night Aimee and I decided that today would be a play day. So this morning we got up at 7 and made a pot of coffee and breakfasted on leftover ham and cheese casserole (delicious and made up as we went) before loading the bikes up for a trip to Wrightsville Beach. We were on the road by 8. I called our good friend Barb to see if she wanted to join us, which she did, and we all rode up to the north end of WB where there's limited parking and plenty of space on the beach (a directly proportional relationship). After a couple hours of sunning, swimming, and bodysurfing we were joined by her husband Colin for lunch at my favorite local pizza joint (her treat, thanks Barb). Then we rode home, with a brief stop at the market to wait out an abrupt summer storm. The rain began slowly in big portentous drops before we got there, and afterwards there was a wild fog from all that water evaporating off the still hot pavement.

We rode 26 miles all told, which was Aimee's biggest day yet. Bikes rock. It was fun to ride down, there's absolutely no headache at all to find a place to park, and it's free, both in respect to gas and parking (a whopping $1.50/hour and friggin' stupid).

It was a good day. I spent the rest of it reading and watching surf movies (Sprout, by Thomas Campbell, an old favorite for its art house eccentricity and admirable departure from the surf film norm of the same pros riding the same waves on the same equipment to the same pop punk soundtrack) and eating pork tenderloin braised in milk, bolognese style. Now I'm going to have a rum and ginger soda with fresh mint and beat Aimee in dominoes. Cheers.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Eagle's Island Solo Circumnavigation


After some hemming and hawing over where to paddle this morning I decided to launch from the closest possible place, which is the foot of Castle St., about 6 blocks away, into the Cape Fear River and paddle around Eagle's Island. I did the trip with the Geezer back in March, so I felt comfortable enough with the distance and the route to go it alone. Tide was high in Wilmington at 12:46. I launched on the incoming at about 10 am and paddled to the S end of the island, against the flow of the river (due to tidal influx). Once I was in the Brunswick River I was able to just float with the current and light S wind all the way to the Cape Fear. The last leg I was going into the wind, which picked up a little, but not bad. I never did see the tide top out and turn around, despite being on the water until almost 1:30. All the crab pots were still pointing N. Go figure.

I saw one smallish alligator; we cautiously regarded each other for about two minutes and then went our separate ways. The birds were pretty good: several osprey, great blue heron, green heron, snowy egret, great egret, one lucky little blue heron, cormorant, gulls, red-winged blackbirds, etc. All very handsome right now. The birds seem a little more vibrantly colorful at present, particularly the little blue heron was a very rich hue and the epaulets on the red-winged blackbirds are striking. I saw one osprey that looked perfectly black and white in all the proper places.

It was interesting to be on the water for almost 4 hours by myself, just observing and thinking about music and books and food and whatever came to mind as I paddled along. Good trip, but better to time it so that you hit the S tip of the island as the tide hits dead low.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Local Sessions


The second image is my article in the new issue of our SE NC surf pub, Local Sessions. See www.capefearhodad.blogspot.com for the full story. It took almost ten years of surfing, but I've finally gotten my photo in a surf mag. Super cool.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Shakespeare on the Green

Aimee and I went last night and it's pretty good. Support your local arts scene (by going to free shows!).

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Rescue and Recovery 101

Roll Attempt (successful) a couple summers ago with Jasmine Park visible across the waterway
Photo by Hunter Brown

Aimee and I paddled with Colin and Barb this morning. Launched at about 9:30 into a light S wind from Jasmine Park on Harbor Island at WB. Tide was fairly low when we started, so we went up the fairway to the ICW to Shinn's and then into the old swimming hole behind on the Masonboro side of Hidden Creek. Colin and Barb chilled on the banks while I practiced my solo re-entries, cowboy and paddle float assisted. It's the first time I've done them since the end of last summer, and the first time period in my Tracer. Both went fine, though I could definitely use some practice and a little more grace. I suspect that had I been in rougher water (the kind that I'm likely to have problems in anyway), it would have taken a couple of attempts. Then we talked Aimee through the wet exit (roll over and fall out) and I talked her thru a T rescue while we were performing it. She's pretty lithe and slipped right in. Then I fell out and she T rescued me (still with me directing from the water and Colin and Barb coaching from the beach). The water feels great right now. I think with a little practice we'll both be pretty darn competent with 'em. Once the tide was sufficiently high, we paddled back across Shinn's and into Hidden Creek and back to Jasmine Park. We saw the usual avian suspects, like tri-colored heron, great egret, snowy egret, great blue heron, green heron, least tern, brown pelican, cormorant, osprey, american oystercatcher, willet, and other miscellaneous peeps.

After the trip they hosted us for a great Sunday lunch of quiche made from Lydia's local Bladen County free range eggs (super rich) with shrimp, sliced tomatoes tossed in olive oil and balsamic and sprinkled with parsley, mint, and two kinds of basil (all out of their garden, I believe), a loaf of good crusty french bread, sliced apples, Roquefort cheese, and Spanish olives. It was delicious. Killed the rest of the day reading and napping on the couch. A pretty successful Sunday in my estimation.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Holy Ghost Tent Revival and Bike Dude

Life rolls on comfortably, for now. Foot's all healed up from the fire ants that camped with us last weekend, where we saw a great band, The Holy Ghost Tent Revival (available on iTunes or at http://www.holyghosttentrevival.com/). It's a little bit jazz, a little bit ska, a little bit bluegrass, and a rockin' good time, especially live. Plus, they're from my old stomping grounds in the Piedmont. It was such a great surprise, because the music at this thing is usually kind of not my thing, but these guys really brought a lot of energy to the party.

In other news, a dude came by the shop this week on a bike that was loaded down as heavily as I've ever seen one, with Bob trailer loaded and modified to hold another rack. It was nuts. He says that he's been traveling continuously for three decades, on the bike for 14 years, and has 84 thousand miles logged by bike in that period. He weighed the bike at a truck stop at 300 lbs. He even had a cat for a while (though she never did get used to biking, damn willful animals). He has no address, just where he lays his head at night. When I asked him where he was from, he gave me the most interesting answer I've ever heard to that most common of questions. "I'm from Earth; I'm an Earthling." Then he started talking about the evils of personal property and national borders (I'm not entirely unsympathetic) and wanting to meet Douglas Adams at the restaurant at the end of the Universe. He also objected to having his picture taken, for reasons I didn't pursue (something about native peoples and souls and having rights to his own image, fine). A little odd, but perfectly harmless and very interesting. The free-est person I've met in a while (though I was in a crowd of similars last weekend).
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Bicyle Super Tourist Kelly something in an unauthorized and clandestinely taken photo


Last night was May's Critical Mass. Had about 60 or so on the ride, including several friends and coworkers. We broke off from the ride when it got downtown to stash bikes at my place and then walk down to the waterfront for the FREE Journey tribute band that was playing. The show was fun, the band did a great job imitating Journey, and lightning played in the background close enough to be interesting, but not dangerous.

Tomorrow Aimee and I are paddling and lunching with good friends, and I'm planning on a little rescue and recovery lesson for her, review for me. I'll post it. Cheers.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Roasted Bruschetta

I don't usually post about food, but this was so good and easy that I'm going to.

Ingredients:
3-4 small-medium fresh tomatoes
2-3 cloves garlic
fresh basil
1/3 of a medium onion
red pepper flakes
salt/pepper
olive oil

Slice the tops off of the tomatoes and put them on a dish (I used stoneware and it worked great) that has been rubbed with olive oil. Place in oven under broiler and roast until skin is easy to remove. Top the still whole tomatoes with crushed red pepper and sea salt, add sliced onion and garlic cloves (tossed in olive oil) and put back under broiler. After everything gets good and roasted pull it all out. The onion and garlic cloves should be soft. Coarsely chop fresh basil in liberal quantity and throw in a bowl. Add still hot and whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped onion, and finely chopped garlic. Run a knife thru the bowl to slice the tomatoes up a little (don't do this on a cutting board, you'll lose all the juice). Add salt/pepper to taste and serve spooned onto toasted bread.

This was amazing. The best part was that it just came together spontaneously. I've made bruschetta before but never roasted the ingredients first. I don't know where I got the inspiration, but we had a bunch of tomatoes and fresh basil from the local farmer's market and I grubbed through the kitchen and found the other stuff and just did it. It's the best appetizer I've ever made. Try it. Change it. Let me know how it turns out. Cheers.

Fire Ants and Cankle

Part of the deal with outdoor activity, especially in wet environs, is that you are bound to abuse the hell out of your feet. I was bitten by a fire ant this weekend camping. I'm not absolutely sure that it was a fire ant. I never saw the bugger, but I've my foot as evidence and there was no shortage of fire ant mounds around the site. At first it was just a little itchy spot, but then it started growing. It's been two days now, and I think it's peaking and should start going down again soon. In any case, I've got one raging cankle. The first photo is from the end of last summer, when I don't know what happened, but my left foot swelled up (note cool tan lines from my kayaking footware and even cooler reef scar from surfing in Hawaii). The second was taken today. I'm off to take care of the old dogs so I can use 'em for a while longer.
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Good Times...

...will begin in 5 minutes. You either know, or you don't.
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Scotty, Dad, Cindy, Willy and I. 4 of ~2000 Friends that I'll see again this weekend.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Surf and Turf Super Sprint


Finished my second race today, the Surf and Turf Super Sprint in Surf City, NC. Woke at quarter til 5, got my stuff (prepacked) and drove up to Topsail. There by 6. Met the boss, got my packet, helped set up Tech support area, set up my transition area, and then pumped tires for an hour. Nothing too exciting here. I ate a Clif Bar for breakfast and downed a gel 15 mins before the start at 8.

The Swim (750 meters): was brutal. Ocean swim, comfortable at 70 degrees in my ls spring suit. I started with the second wave. Seas looked fairly calm to me from the beach at 7, but I think the tide was coming in and it picked up by 8 to fairly choppy for a swim (my first ocean swim). Had I been surfing I would have called it waist/stomach high. Getting out through the breakers was pretty rough, despite my comfort with being in the surf zone from almost 10 years surfing. Once I made it around the first buoy I settled into a pace that was OK, but all I could think about was getting it over with. I finally rounded the last buoy and swam for shore. The run across the beach to the TA was pretty rough and my legs felt like they would give out, but I was stoked to be done with the swim and going into the first bike leg.

Bike 1 (4 miles): Into the wind on the first half, with it for the second. Averaged 17/18 into the wind, 20/21 with. Drank some water from my bottle with GU2O electrolyte replacement to stave off cramps.

Run 1 (2 miles): Not too bad. Ran my standard pace of 10 min/mile (too slow). It seemed longer than 2 miles. There was a beach leg, mostly on hard sand, but the stairs over the dunes and soft sand on the upper beach was rough.

Bike 2 (4 miles): Better than the first bike, same average into the wind, but picked it up slightly for the second half. Ate a GU gel halfway thru to help me through the last run.

Run 2 (1 mile): A little faster paced than R1. Jubilation at being almost finished.

Times and Places:

Swim: 22:21
B1: 15:12
R1: 20:58
B2: 13:12
R2: 9:27
Finish Time: 1:21:07

Place Overall Men's: 96/131 competitors
Men 30-34: 11/13 competitors

Lessons Learned and Reflections: Again, I need to get better (if not faster, at least more comfortable) at swimming. Specifically I need to practice swimming from the beach out through the breakers, and then back in. I'm going to spend as much time in the pool (and ocean) before Kure Beach as I can. I've got to run and bike faster, and in succession. I WILL IMPROVE BY MY NEXT RACE (June 28). I was finished by 9:30 and Aimee was there, so we walked over to the beach and I stood in the water for a few minutes to cool down, then packed up and rinsed off, changed, watched half of the awards ceremony, then drove home. Halfway home I was suddenly exhausted and starving. At home I showered and ate 3 black bean enchiladas and then went to work for the day. Tonight my folks are in town and took us to our favorite restaurant for my favorite curry, and it was excellent as always. I'm not too stiff yet, but I'm sure tomorrow will be a different story.