Rocks State Park and Deer Creek
They say that timing is everything! This applies for business, love, war, gambling, fighting,...,and kayaking. I'm not just talking about the tide. This also applies to the rain. Read on and this will make more sense.
On December 23, 2006, I scouted Rocks State Park and Deer Creek. It was a scenic area with a narrow stream only deemed paddleable in the winter, spring, and within a week of hard rain according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). It wasn't winter or spring but as of Thursday night, October 25, 2007, the forecast for Havre de Grace, a nearby town, was as follows:
Thursday Night: Periods of rain, mainly after midnight. Low around 49. East
wind between 13 and 17 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New
rainfall amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch possible.
Friday: Periods of rain. High near 62. East wind between 13 and 17
mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New rainfall amounts between
three quarters and one inch possible.
Friday Night: Periods of rain and possibly a thunderstorm. Low around
61. Southeast wind around 15 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New
rainfall amounts between one and two inches possible.
Saturday: Periods of showers and possibly a thunderstorm before noon,
then a chance of showers. High near 69. South wind 13 to 15 mph
becoming west. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New rainfall amounts
between three quarters and one inch possible.
Saturday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 48.
Sunday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 62.
Clearly, it looked like we'd get some heavy rain that would make kayaking adventurous.
On Saturday, October 27, 2007, Norma and I drove up to Aberdeen with my Ocean Kayak Cabo tandem sit-on-top plastic kayak. Why the tandem? Because with all the rain, I was concerned paddling might be a little too adventurous. Norma was getting good on my Cobra Expedition but the water conditions this weekend might be beyond her current skill level. Plus, if one of my boats had to get banged around, my heavy duty Cabo could handle it best. I also brought my Euro paddles instead of my carbon fiber wing paddles for the same reason.
That afternoon, we checked out the lower portion of the creek. We planned to paddle a route that included the DNR 8.9 mile route. At Stafford Bridge, where the stream drains into the Susquehanna River, the water appeared to be moving 6 mph and was very high. Safety was my biggest concern with fun being secondary. Neither of us were whitewater kayakers, we did not have a whitewater boat, nor did we have helmets. But despite the speed of the water, it was flat. Of course we only saw one point but I read quite a bit about the river from reliable sources. "Swift, flat water with some sections of gravelly riffles" is how it was described. We also checked further upstream at a few other points. For the most part, there was nothing hazardous, until...
Just west (upstream) of Darlington Road (route 161) and north of Glenville Road, we saw the 3 foot Wilson Mill dam. Water gushed over it with tremendous force. It was more like a powerful waterfall than a small dam. Three feet may not sound like much but with the height of the water that poured over, I'd say the drop was more like 4 feet. We saw a beer bottle approach the dam. It came to it at about 4 mph them sped up and fell down the falls...I mean the dam, at what looked like 10 mph! We didn't see it again for about 2 seconds. Clearly, with our limited skills, this was something we wanted to avoid. Looking to the right and left of the dam, we saw a concrete section on the south side where the water moved fairly slowly. We could grab onto that and portage the boat. We would have to carry the boat down about 3.5 feet and launch on the other side of the dam. On the downstream side, the water was still moving fairly fast but it was manageable.
Norma and I did some more scouting and only found swift moving water. Nothing like the Wilson Mill dam.
That night, we ate a great dinner in Havre de Grace and walked around town. It was cool and breezy. I'm pretty good about planning for kayaking for backpacking but when it comes to having dinner in town, I forget the basics...like bringing a jacket.
I thought about the force of the water flowing over the dam. We could portage and if it all went as planned, we'd be fine. But there was little room for error. The current would be pushing us downstream at about 4 mph. We'd have to get to the south side and grab onto the concrete. If we missed it or didn't hold on, we'd go over the dam. If we went over after trying to grab onto the side, we probably wouldn't go over bow first. It might be sideways. If we went before the boat, my 76 pound kayak could come crashing down on us. If I had more experience with this type of thing, I might be more adventurous but the more I thought about what could go wrong, the less I favored my plan. I decided that while our portage COULD work, there was not enough leeway for mistakes. Time to switch to plan B.
I remembered reading on the DNR website about a 15.5 mile route. There were no dams on this route and it had an easier rating. Tomorrow, we'd give this a go.
The next morning, on October 28, 2007, we drove to Deer Creek Conservation Area/Priestford Bridge at route 136. This would be our take out. I marked it on my global positioning system (GPS). Next, we drove to Rocks Road mile 18.6 and caught the hiking trail that ends at this lot. With some time to spare, I wanted to show Norma the scenic view from Rocks State Park before we commenced paddling.
We took the half mile rock climber trail to get to King and Queen Seat. This formation was a ceremonial site for Susquehannock and Mingo Indians. We climbed out to a ledge that stood 190 feet above Deer Creek. Then we scrambled up some other rocks. See Norma in the first photo at left.
On the way back, I climbed a rock that reminded me of Cantilever Rock which we climbed in Vermont on August 5, 2007. See second photo at left.
Some interesting mushrooms were spotted near the base of a rock step on the trail. See third photo at left.
We drove 0.7 miles to our launch site, Gauging Station, Rocks Road mile 17.9. By 1205, we were in the water.
Considering how much it rained over the last several days, the water seemed low. Within a minute, we were getting caught on rocks only covered by a few inches of water.
The small stretch of the river where we started is popular with river tubers in the summer and we saw a few tubes that became casualties along the shore.
We went over what appeared to have once been a one foot dam. We hit it just right and landed gracefully on the other side.
The creek was very scenic. Some trees displayed nice autumn colors while others seemed to think it was still summer.
The river wasn't moving as quickly as I remembered yesterday. There were several spots where it moved us along at a good pace and others where it was fairly calm. Certainly not technical. With very little effort, we were able to maintain a moving average of about 4.2 mph. I was hoping for 6 mph. Some spots definitely were adventurous but I never felt like we were in danger.
Though it was windy, we usually didn't notice it because the waterway was very narrow and the banks of the river gave us protection.
We saw a red fox from the rear and we thought we saw another. At first, Norma thought it was a red panda but I don't recall ever hearing of any pandas in Harford County.
We also saw about 5 deer and 5 bee hives, some as tall as 18 inches...the bee hives, not the deer. See fourth photo at left.
There were a few houses and a good deal of farmland on the shores. Some roads traveled close and parallel to us for awhile also. We never saw anyone else in the water. Very little trash too.
We stopped for a short lunch at Ady Road (route 543) and Walters Mill Road. It felt good to sit in the sun for awhile.
Whitewater paddlers are the best when it comes to reading the rivers. They can tell the ideal spots to paddle and the worst parts to avoid. Unfortunately, I don't have that skill. I managed to avoid an overwhelming majority of the rocks sticking above the water but there were quite a few just a few inches below that I hit. Some I saw at the last second and several I never saw. I found it hard to believe the water was so low even after so much rain. As we got closer to the end, the paddling became rather challenging as I avoided several large rocks protruding above the water. We zig-zagged around them like a slalom downhill skier competing for the gold. At times it was somewhat difficult.
But despite the occassional frustration of hitting rocks, the trip was a scenic one and well worth it.
We were done paddling by 1620, having completed 15.5 miles. See Norma at the take out with the route 136 bridge behind in the fifth photo at left.
Norma and I took a drive back to Wilson's Mill. Within 24 hours the water level dropped about 19 inches! The dam now looked much less intimidating. See sixth photo at left. We agreed that despite what the DNR might claim, paddling within a week of a heavy rain isn't good enough. Timing is everything and for this area, 24 hours is the window of opportunity.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Mattawoman Creek, Nanjemoy Creek, and the Ghost Fleet at Mallows Bay
For a trip report of a three day kayak car camping adventure in Charles County, Maryland, see
Mattawoman Creek, Nanjemoy Creek, and Mallows, September 2007.
Vermont and New Hampshire
For a trip report of a week long hiking, biking, kayaking adventure in Vermont and New Hampshire, see
Vermont and New Hampshire, August 2007.
Paw Paw to Pearre
For a trip report of paddling from Paw Paw, West Virginia to Pearre, Maryland on July 28-30, 2007, see
Paw Paw to Pearre, 2007.
Bladensburg to Anacostia Park
Usually when Norma paddles with me, we are in my Ocean Kayak Cabo, a tandem boat. But in preparation for an overnight kayaking trip, she wanted to try out paddling in a solo kayak. Thus, on July 21, 2007, she paddled my Cobra Expedition while I used my Futura C4 surf ski.
Norma and I launched from Bladensburg Waterfront Park at 0750 and headed south (downstream). It was low tide. We launched from this site on May 20, 2007 but did a slightly different route.
There was a woman on the pier teaching a couple how to row. That is something I've never tried but would like to. Seems like more efficient exercise than kayaking though I think I would still prefer the latter since I would want to see where I'm going and be able to paddle in a wider variety of conditions.
The weather was sunny, cool, and unusually clear for a summer day. There were a couple of regulars using rental boats heading in our direction. We chatted to them a bit.
We had a slight downstream current and no noticeable wind. In the Expedition, Norma maintained a moving average of about 3.8 mph though we stopped several times to observe the natural beauty of the Anacostia River. I can't say I've ever seen so many egrets in such a short span of time. See first photo at left.
Nearing our destination, we paddled under a train track bridge. See second photo at left. Notice the egret at the lower left and Norma about to pass under the bridge in the lower right.
A brief stop was made at our turn around point, Anacostia Park. I found two large (2 inch) snail shells on the litter covered boat ramp. I took them home to varnish then use as table decorations.
We saw some people in their rowing shells just upstream of the John Phillip Sousa Bridge. See third photo at left. I was told that a rowing club was a little further downstream.
Norma tried out my surf ski. On the first attempt, she fell out after paddling 15 feet. On the second attempt, she paddled in a full circle without falling out. Not bad and certainly no worse than most. We decided it was best for her to stay in the Expedition on the way back.
Kayaking back upstream, we stopped at a concrete structure which appears to have once been the base of a small bridge. See fourth photo at left. The shaded tunnel area in the structure was a haven for mosquitos. Not a good place to stop. The structure was at a small tributary that led to Lake Kingman.
I fastened my tow rope to Norma's boat and towed her the rest of the way back. This was no free lunch. Norma had to work too, and work she did. We just wanted to see how fast we could go if our speeds averaged each other out. I estimate we maintained a moving average of 5.2 mph for about 4 miles.
We saw a few others in rental boats from Bladensburg Waterfront Park. Great day to be out.
Our trip was done at about 1040, after paddling 9.4 miles.
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The heat index was 106 on July 10, 2007. Good time to be in a sit-on-top kayak. There was a downpour a few hours earlier and the temperature was dropping. There was also a pretty good breeze coming from the south. As it turned out, the predicted high temperature really wasn't so bad.
I launched from Watersedge Beach at about 1730. If I were to do a night paddle, it would probably be from there. So many launch sites are closed after dusk. I saw no signs at this location to indicate otherwise.
I paddled to the mouth of Bear Creek then into the (big) Patapsco River. I planned to take photos of Fort Carroll, 3.4 acre artificial island and abandoned fort. Construction of the fort began in 1858 under the supervision of Robert E. Lee. Fort Carroll was important for the defense of Baltimore, since before the fort was created, the only military defensive structure between Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay was Fort McHenry. While the famous Fort McHenry is refurbished and a popular tourist attraction, the almost unknown Fort Carroll lies in ruins.
- from Wikipedia
What I really wanted to do was to land at the fort and explore it on foot. But I knew this was illegal. That didn't stop some people. Maybe they had special permission. See Gene's photos.
I settled on circumnavigating the fort via kayak. As I approached the fort, I was heading between it and the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge in Baltimore, named after the author of the "Star Spangled Banner." See first photo at left.
I then turned my camera towards the fort to get a view from afar. See second photo at left. As I paddled closer, I saw the entrance and the famous "Private, keep off, guard dog" warning. See third photo at left. No, there are no dogs at the fort. But there are numerous birds and undoubtedly, several nests. So if you do land, you may be approached by angry guard birds. One in particular (a great blue heron) stood watch as I paddled closer. See fourth photo at left.
At the west side of the fort, I caught a nice view of the windows that cannons must have shot through to defend the city of Baltimore. See fifth photo at left.
I paddled back in somewhat choppy water then explored Bear Creek. Near Clement Cove, I saw a fish swimming with a fin sticking out of the water. My first though was SHARK! But then I saw two fins moving up and down in unison. Turns out it was a ray. About two feet wide.
I paddled by the Anchor Bay East Swing Bridge. See sixth photo at left.
Just downstream of the Wise Avenue Drawbridge (a blue bridge) on the east side, I saw Dick's Famous Dock Bar at 601 Wise Avenue, Dundalk, Maryland 21222, phone: 410-388-0630...not to be confused with Doc's Famous Dick Bar. There were low floating piers for boats to tie up at. Outdoor seating too. Might be nice to come back with some kayaking friends and a rope, then secure our boats and have dinner.
I remember years ago seeing a boat on the upper reaches of Bear Creek that propelled itself by a giant fan that pushed air backwards. It was like the boat used on the television show "Flipper." I think they are used in extremely shallow water like the Florida Everglades. I didn't find the boat.
I finished paddling at about 1945. Did an easy 10.75 miles with lots of photo stops.
I would love to get permission to land at the Fort. But it is hard to get permission when I don't know who owns it. I've asked the folks at Anne Arundel County and have received no reply. Some asking and web searching revealed the following:
Fort Carroll, Maryland says it's owned by Struever Brothers Eccles and Rouse.
No plans have taken wing at old fortress says "According to land records, the island is now owned by Alan G. and Irvin D. Eisenberg. It is assessed for $31,500."
According to Black-crowned Night Heron Study, Fort Carroll Associates, LLC controls access to the Fort but I was unable to find a point of contact for them.
I have done my best to contact the appropriate people to get permission to lead a small group of kayakers to land at the Fort. I am now waiting for a reply.
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Independence Day Paddle on the Potomac River
I'm not much for crowds, night life, or fireworks. I'd much rather spend my day on the trail or the water. On July 4, 2007, I chose the latter.
I scouted out a nice route about 2 years ago and never got around to doing it. Now was my opportunity. Best of all, I would share this adventure with good friends.
I was joined by Stacy, Susan Justice, Stephen, and Norma. Interestingly, Norma was the only one amongst us whose name didn't start with an 'S'. We tried to think of an appropriate 'S' name for her but couldn't.
We met near the Mouth of the Monocacy River just upstream of the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Towpath. Stephen and Susan drove down from Pennsylvania together. He stayed at the launch site with the boat and Susan drove down to drop off her car since the two of them didn't want to do a bicycle shuttle. Did I say forget to say this was a kayaking/biking event?
Stacy, Norma, and I locked our bicycles up at the take out then drove (with Susan as a passenger) to the put in, Brunswick Bridge. There we met Stephen. I met him once last year at one of the Kent Island kayak trips. Kudos to Stephen for providing so many of the great photos of this trip.
Stephen and Susan paddled an Old Town Penobscot canoe. Stacy was in my Cobra Expedition. Norma and I were in the Ocean Kayak Cabo. See first and second photos at left.
We were on the Potomac River at about 1030.
The river was very low and the current was weak. Looks like we'd have to work.
I was glad I brought my Euro paddles rather than my carbon fiber wing paddles. The water was shallow in many spots and there were numerous times I hit a rock pretty hard with the tip of my blade.
The forecast called for "isolated showers, then scattered showers, and thunderstorms after 0800. Partly cloudy, with a high near 83. South wind between 9 and 14 mph. Chance of precipitation is 40%. New rainfall amounts of less than a tenth of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms." At that point, it was hard to tell what the weather was going to do. At times the sun peeked through but it was generally overcast while we were on the water. We heard a good deal of thunder but never caught more than a light and short sprinkle or saw lightning while in the boats.
Hundreds of damselflies swarmed around. A large percent were mating and flying as one. There were also some very fast moving bugs on the water. Don't know what they were.
The river looked exceptionally clear and there was more vegetation in the water than I'd ever seen before. I'm guessing the two conditions are related. See third photo at left for Stacy doing her part to remove some of this excess plant life. Looks like she needs higher shoulders to fit that personal floatation device (PFD).
We paddled up Catoctin Creek on the Maryland (north) side of the river. It was very shallow and we probably didn't even get a half mile upstream. But the view of the aqueduct was lovely. See fourth photo at left. Notice Norma and Stacy in the Cabo.
A little further down on the Potomac, we stopped for lunch on some rocks in the middle of the river. See fifth photo at left. There were about a dozen beef cows on the shore on the Virginia (southwest) side. Can't say I've ever seen cows while paddling. See sixth photo at left. The song "Who Let the Dogs Out" was briefly changed to "Who Let the Cows Out...moo, moo, moo, moo moo."
Kayaking downstream on the Potomac again, we spotted a bald eagle in flight.
We kept to the right (southwest) of Paton Island and caught Catoctin Creek on the Virginia (southwest) side of the Potomac. This was even shallower and we got about as far as before.
Next, we paddled under the bridge at Point of Rocks. There were numerous people on the Virginia side enjoying the beach. I wondered if the smell of beef on the grill offended the cows that grazed downstream.
After we passed Heaters Island, things got quiet. There were few people and even fewer boats. Now the water was a smooth as glass and the current was barely noticeable. See seventh photo at left.
Numerous islands dotted the Potomac. The familiar Nolands Ferry lay to our left which told me the Monocacy River would be coming up soon.
Two and a half miles later, the Monocacy River drained into the Potomac on our left. We paddled up it and under the aqueduct to our take out. Norma and I posed for photos. See eighth photo at left. We paddled 14.5 miles and were done at 1445.
Susan offered us some peanut butter cookies she baked. I only regret eating just one.
Stacy, Norma, and I unlocked the bikes, locked up our boats, and bid Susan and Stephen farewell.
Shortly after Stacy, Norma, and I started biking back to Brunswick on the C&O Towpath, it began to rain. Then it poured. Then there was thunder and lightning all around. It was a good time to NOT be on the water. The towpath was muddy and none of us had fenders on our bicycles so our back tires threw mud all over our backsides.
The rain made us a bit cold so we peddled faster which just got us muddier. It would occassionally stop for awhile then start again.
Eagle eye Stacy spotted a great horned owl then a box turtle which we moved off the towpath.
As we approached Brunswick, it was obvious the storm hadn't reached there. It was sunny and dry. People must have wondered why we were so filthy and wet. Perhaps the result of a three way mud wrestling contest? Yeah, right...in my dreams.
We finished our 12 mile bike ride then drove to Beans in the Belfry for dessert. Quite an interesting place. We dared not sit or touch any furniture.
The storm caught up with us in Brunswick.
We drove home and unloaded the boats. Soon after, the storm hit my town. It seems to have been following me. Oh well, at least I didn't have to bother with watering my lawn.
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Though she keeps a busy race schedule and lives in Pennsylvania, Susan Justice still finds time to spend with her friends. On June 29, 2007, she drove several hours just to go paddling with little old me.
Our plan was to launch at 1530 but we didn't actually get on the water until about 1545. I ran into a vehicle that was stuck along the side of the durt road between two bumps so I loaned the driver my ice tracks to get himself unstuck. Hence, we were late.
Susan and I launched from Solleys Cove then paddled south on Marley Creek. I haven't been there for about two years. Everytime I've been there, I've seen at least one bald eagle. The last time I was there, I saw a nest that I think belonged to them. Hence, our mission was to find the eagles, if they were still there.
I saw more than my share of eagles on June 11, 2007 at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. But find them in Glen Burnie would really be something.
First, we went up Tanyard Cove. If we were going to spot any eagles, I'd expect to find them there since it is very sheltered and natural. Quite a few great blue herons but no eagles.
Paddling further south on Marley Creek, we passed some power lines. There was a large nest that looked to be about three feet in diameter in one of the towers. See first photo at left. Two large birds were perched in an adjacent tower. They looked small to be bald eagles and I didn't see the distintive white head. Could be ospreys. They were pretty high up and the sun wasn't in a good position to see detail. We continued onward.
Just east of Brewers Island, we found five half sunken boats in a very small area. Looks like they might have just gotten stuck on the muddy bottom. A few had "No Trespassing" signs and one had a sign saying that anyone near the boat was being video taped. As I paddled around the boats, I hoped that the owners were at least responsible enough to pump out any fuel remaining in the engine so as not to pollute the water over time. See second photo at left for Susan next to the largest abandoned boat.
Susan and I passed under two bridges then made it as far upstream on the creek as possible. The last quarter mile was quite scenic and natural. Numerous large carp splashed by our boats as we passed.
Heading back downstream, we saw the nest and birds by the power lines again. I don't know if they were the same birds or if they were just in a different position but there was absolutely no doubt that one of the birds was a bald eagle. BINGO! The other could have been a juvenile (the young don't have white heads). There they were, just two miles south of the Baltimore City line. See third photo at left.
A Coast Guard boat passed us followed by a police boat. Good thing we didn't venture to explore the wrecks.
We made it just north of Thomas Point then headed back. Note that this is a totally different Thomas Point than the one near Thomas Point Lighthouse. See fourth photo at left for Susan at the turnaround.
Though we had fast boats, we weren't going all that fast. It was a relaxing paddle...not quite a workout. With the water so flat, I really focused on my technique and trying to make every stroke count. During the last quarter mile, Susan gave me some pointers on my paddling (in particular, the catch phase of the stroke) which definitely improved by speed. Turns out I wasn't really using my top hand during the catch to forcefully plant the blade in the water. See fifth photo at left.
By 1815 we were done. We only did 9.5 miles but more importantly, we verified that the bald eagles were still alive and well in Glen Burnie.
Later that night, we joined my friends (Keith, J.T., Jenn, Joe, Norma, Lucas, Recon Jimmy, and Melissa) to eat and listen to the band Cuttin' Grass.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse
The last time I paddled to Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse, I was hitting high winds and 3.5 foot waves in my surf ski. It was fun but also quite challenging. I think that was in 2005. This time I was going back but via a different route and with a group. This peer paddle was led by the lovely and talented Yvonne. See first photo at left for Miss Mystic (Yvonne).
Ten of us met at Galesville at 0830. One thing I love about the kayak crowd is that they are very prompt. We launched at about 0900.
The forecast was mostly sunny with a high near 81 and north wind between 7 and 10 mph. We paddled northeast on the West River to the mouth. The West River lies east of the South River and the South River is north of the West River. Still trying to figure that one out.
Cyndi, David, and I took the lead.
Once we reached the Chesapeake Bay, we paddled north. I was hoping for some wave action but there was little. Maybe one foot chop at times though occassionally a large boat created some larger waves.
David and I were the first to reach the lighthouse. See (the new and improved) David in the second photo at left. I noticed that my surf ski seemed to be going pretty slowly. I thought I was a little weak after yesterday's swim. See me in the third photo at left, photo courtesy of Gina.
The rest of the group approached and we took photos. See fourth photo at left. Then we threw around Ralph's flying disc. Not many catches though Marshall managed to catch a throw from me and I managed to catch one from David.
Volunteers worked on keeping the lighthouse pristine.
Cyndi proudly paddled her one month old carbon fiber Kayakpro Nemo racing sea kayak. This boat is patterned after the cartoon clown fish in the movie "Finding Nemo." If there was an award for being best color coordinated, Cyndi would have won it that day. Even her hair closely matched. See fifth photo at left for me and Cyndi, photo courtesy of Ralph.
Next, the group paddled to Thomas Point at the mouth of the South River. This is the closest land mass from the lighthouse, 1.2 miles away.
We took a break at Thomas Point Park, landing at a small beach that is sometimes underwater at high tide. See sixth photo at left. Notice the "No Trespassing" sign in the upper right corner.
David helped me drain my boat. It took on several quarts of water in only 8.5 miles of paddling. The water wasn't even that rough. Clearly, that was slowing me down though I'm sure it also made my boat more stable. It seems every year my 1996 Futura C4 surf ski takes on more and more water. I've definitely got my money's worth out of this boat but with the amount of water it takes on, I'm thinking I might not have much more time with it before it is sleeping with the crabs (which are bottom feeders).
It didn't take long before I was getting cold from that bay breeze. We used the park porta-john, ate a snack, then resumed.
I was the last to launch. There were a few waves and I was in about 2.5 feet of water. I was a bit shaky and tried to stabilize myself by putting my paddle on the bottom. Before I could get in control, I fell out. Shazbot! First fall this year.
Paddling back, things felt unstable and awkward. I thought I was just feeling embarrassed for falling.
Cyndi and I played in the boat wakes, trying to ride a wave whenever possible. In my eagerness to catch some of the larger waves, I'm afraid I cut a few people off. Sorry if you were one of them. Sometimes my desire to ride a wave makes me forget about simple kayak courtesy.
About a mile from the end, I realized why paddling felt so strange. When I tried to brace myself, I put my weight on the paddle and collapsed it. It was about 5 inches shorter than my usual setting and the feather was off. I adjusted it and WOW!!! So much easier now. I'm guessing that's also why I fell in. My paddle shaft shrunk when I tried to brace with it.
We were done at 1330. According to my global positioning system (GPS), we paddled 16 miles...or at least that's what I paddled. I rarely paddle in a straight line when there are waves to ride.
Again, I drained a significant amount of water from my boat. Poor boat.
Ralph brought out his propane grill, Cyndi got out the veggie burgers, Paul got the beef burgers, and I opened the packages of hot dogs. Yvonne made brownies. We ate our fill then bid our farewells.
Fantastic trip Yvonne!
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
For a trip report of a three day event on the eastern shore of Maryland, see
Taylors Island, 2007.
White Rocks and Black Rocks
With my job, I need to get in a certain number of hours in each month. This means I can often take off a little early at the end of the month if I've worked enough, there are no deadlines, and I've made sufficient progress. At the end of May, I left work a couple of hours early and took advantage of the 90 degree high temperature to go paddling.
Back around 2005, I paddled to Fort Smallwood Park in Anne Arundel County with Kevin O. We landed on a beach and spoke to a fellow who was renting jet skis at a ridiculously high price. He asked me about the profitability of renting kayaks. I told him that I didn't think the area was well suited for renting kayaks since I didn't think the water was calm enough or the area interesting enough for beginners or novices. The beach seemed adequate for a future launch.
On May 31, 2007, I drove to Fort Smallwood Park to launch and get some photos of the area. As I drove up to the entrance, a park employee looked at my boat and told me I couldn't launch there. Dammit! I made a U-turn and thought about plan B. I remembered that Kevin had told me I could launch anytime I wanted from his waterfront property on Rock Creek. I didn't have his phone number on me so I just showed up. He was mowing his lawn. He gladly let me launch.
I was on the water at 1625. First, I paddled to the southernmost end of Rock Creek, ducking under two bridges. On my last trip to that area, I remembered the shallow, muddy area at the end to be full of carp. This time I saw none. I headed back upstream and explored all the tributaries of the creek including Whites Cove, Tar Cove, and Wall Cove. As I remembered in years past, there appear to be no launch sites open to the public on Rock Creek.
I saw a few swans and several herons. See first, second and third photos at left. I noticed there were several mallards in the area and that the ratio of males to females was about 13 to 1 (sort of like Camp Lejeune, North Carolina). I paddled by one group of ducks that appeared to be attacking another. As I drew closer, I noticed that there were 9 male ducks gang raping a lone female. She struggled to come up for air every few seconds as two drakes kept pushing her under. I later found out that this was pretty normal and that the ritual can be so violent that the females lose feathers at the back of their necks.
I was using my large wing paddle which allowed me to maintain a good pace with considerably fewer strokes. Hence, I tried to make every stroke count by focusing on proper torso rotation. But the weight of the paddle was noticeably greater than my mid-wing. I don't think my choice of paddles was an efficient one.
As I left Rock Creek I paddled into what I call the "big" Patapsco River. I call it "big" because the Patapsco River can also also be a small river surrounded on both sides by Patapsco Valley State Park. This "little" Patsapsco River is often small enough to permit one to throw a rock from one side to the other. In contrast, big ships travel up the "big" Patapsco River. I was now near the mouth of the "big" Patapsco where it meets the Chesapeake Bay.
I went to White Rocks, an anomaly of the Chesapeake Bay. See fourth photo at left. The Bay typically has a muddy bottom. Not many rocks, especially large ones. But just 0.7 miles northwest of Rock Point (the northernmost point of Fort Smallwood Park), there is an assembly of light colored rocks that protrude from the water. The largest rock is about 13 feet above the water. My goal was to photograph White Rocks. I definitely brought the wrong boat for that. My surf ski got me there quickly but the water in this area is often choppy. Though it was relatively calm that day, there were occassionally one foot waves. If I was moving, that would not have been a problem but I had my paddle in my lap, feet dangling over the sides of the boat for stability, and non-waterproof digital camera in hand. I would not have had the confidence to do this two years ago. I took many photos from both the south and northwest sides. I paddled between the rocks to look at them closely.
I don't know if the individual rocks have names but I decided to call the tallest one "slug" because from the northwest side, it is long and is somewhat slug shaped (see fifth photo at left). The large rock to the southwest of slug has one part that reminds me of what rock climbers call a "rooftop." This can only be seen from the west side. Hence, I call this rock "rooftop" (see sixth photo at left).
It took quite a while to take photos since the boat kept rocking and moving. I'd paddle to get in position for a photo, then drift quickly to an undesireable position. Afterwards, I'd put my camera away in its Tupperware container and dry bag and then paddle back to a better position. After a few iterations of this, I was done.
Next, I paddled to the mouth of Stony Creek. Here I took photos of the less impressive Black Rocks. See seventh photo at left. I'm guessing the tallest of these rocks is only 8 feet above the waterline. These dark rocks are much smaller than White Rocks and apparently a different type of rock. The waves were smaller in this area but the current was stronger so it actually took me longer to get photos here. Viewed from afar, the rocks just looked like dark rocks with graffitti on them. They must have been fairly soft because many people carved their names into the rocks. One of the middle rocks had a good deal of name carving so I call it "rosetta" after the famous Rosetta Stone. See eighth photo at left.
Up close, the rocks were much more impressive. The southeastern side of the most southeastern rock was the most interesting because it had so many nooks and crannies. Hence, I named this rock "English muffin." See ninth photo at left.
I paddled back to Rock Creek along Riviera Beach. When I first got my surf ski, I remember paddling in this area and falling out of my boat frequently. Now, I was brave enough to take photos with an expensive, non-waterproof camera. You've come a long way, baby.
Paddling back up Rock Creek, I saw an osprey nest at the top of a pile driver on a boat. I'm sure the bird will be in for quite a shock if that pile driver ever gets used. See tenth photo at left.
I finished paddling at 1925. I only did 12.2 miles but I managed to get some nice photos, find out where I can't launch, and most importantly, I learned why White Rocks are white...they are covered with bird crap!
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
For a trip report of a four day Memorial Day weekend event led by Norma and me in the Patuxent (Pax) River area, see
Pax Tri-Event, 2007.
Upper Anacostia River
On May 20, 2007, Norma and I explored the upper part of the Anacostia River. In years past, I've explored from Bladensburg Waterfront Park south to the Potomac River...but never north. Today we set out to do just that.
North of the launch site, the Anacostia split into the Northwest and the Northeast Branches. The Northwest only appeared to go 0.8 miles but the Northeast Branch looked like it went 4 miles north to Greenbelt Road (route 193). Of course, this was just looking at the map. Since there were no boat launches north of Bladensburg Waterfront Park, I wasn't going to get my hopes up. It might very well be too shallow to paddle. Even if it was deep enough, I wasn't expecting anything scenic. The map showed waterways that were unusually uniform in width and too straight at times. Clearly man-made. But this was almost Norma's backyard and it would be a shame not to explore one's own backyard at least once.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tides, at Benning Bridge, which is 3 miles south of Bladensburg, high tide would hit at 1156. I figured we'd take advantage of the tide to get us as far up the Anacostia as possible.
I forgot my wetsuit and only had a neoprene top for warmth but I was fine. The high was expected to be 79 degrees so it worked out nicely.
We launched about 1100. Paddling under Bladensburg Road (route 202), we soon came to the split.
Veering right (east), we took the Northeast Branch. Almost immediately, we saw signs that this branch was not natural. There were lots of big boulders placed along the sides to prevent erosion. Unlike the lower Anacostia, the water was very clean. We could easily see the flat, rocky, uniform bottom, which was extremely shallow. In less than half a mile, our boat was hitting the bottom. We got out and walked with it a ways but found that our shallow area was most likely the norm for what was to follow.
We paddled back downstream then up the Northwest Branch. Clearly, it was much deeper. Then we came to a small dam. It looked like there was a fish ladder running down the center but a local told us it was just a means of controlling water flow and had nothing to do with fish. We carried the boat around the dam and continued paddling. Again, the waterway was clearly man made. It didn't take long before things got very shallow. We came to an obstruction and decided to explore ahead on foot to see if portage was worth while. It was not. See first photo at left.
On our way back, we carried the boat over the dam and in the process, scared what I think was a 3 foot long brown snake. It was sunning itself on the concrete but when it saw us, it darted into the water and sprinted downstream.
Kayaking downstream, we saw a small northern water snake on the shore just south of route 202. See second photo at left.
Back near where we launched, Norma and I stopped at a small island to eat lunch. It was near high tide.
At the Waterfront Park, we used the restrooms. While I waited with the boat, I spoke to some other paddlers. They said the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens was only about 2 miles downstream. Having paddled only about 2 miles, we decided the Aquatic Gardens would make a nice trip.
Paddling downstream, the Anacostia looked cleaner than I remembered though it had been years since I've been on it.
We saw countless painted turtles. Maybe a couple dozen throughout the day. See third photo at left. Lots of real big ones. I saw one and thought it was a hubcap at first!
A few times I tried to get a good photo of some great blue herons but they seemed to wait until my camera was out then they'd fly away. But I did find one that would pose for me. See fourth photo at left.
In the Aquatic Gardens, we explored all the nooks. As expected, we were surrounded by beautiful trees and aquatic plants. Quite a bit of work went into keeping the place scenic. See fifth and sixth photos at left.
There wasn't a designated landing place but we found one spot just a few feet from the 0.7 mile long River Trail. Pulling the boat ashore, we commenced exploring the Aquatic Gardens on foot. The place was just as beautiful on land as on the water though I was disappointed that I didn't see any of the giant lily pads that were 5 feet in diameter with edges that turned upwards. Park staff later told me they don't put those out until July. We saw a pile of big seed pods (seventh photo), more turtles, baby geese (eighth photo), and some nice flowers (ninth photo).
A worker told us they were about to close as she saw us walking up the River Trail. I said we were going back to our boat. She said we'd better hurry because the Aquatic Gardens loses 90% of its water at low tide. High tide was around noon and now it was almost 1600. We made it back to the boat but getting it to paddle-able water was a challenge. We had to push the boat through knee deep mud for about 30 meters before we got to deeper waters.
We had an 11-15 mph wind to our back for some of the remaining trip.
After we loaded the boat and gear on the car, we walked around the Park. We saw that where we had lunch was no longer an island. It was now connected to a land mass that stuck about 30 meters into the water.
We paddled and walked a total of 11.8 miles. Not very far though some of it was extremely slow.
Years ago, I ran into similar problems with the tide in a different area. Today, I made the mistake of only checking when low and high tide occurs...not paying attention to the difference. It turns out that for that day, high tide was 3.2 feet above low tide! I won't make that mistake again. At least not until next time.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
When I go kayaking, I paddle for a purpose. Maybe it is to enjoy the company of friends. Perhaps it is for exercise. Often, it is to satisfy my desire to see something new. Today, Cinco de Mayo 2007, it was to work on my technique.
In the martial arts, we throw thousands of punches and kicks, either in the air (as in shadow boxing) or against a target (like a heavy bag). The purpose is to refine our technique. Sure, conditioning is a factor, but if that was all that mattered, we could just do cardio kickboxing. Instead, we study from a master who teaches us to hit and kick with proper form. I've sparred more people than I can remember and I've trained with people who were smaller, weaker, or slower than me but some of them also dominated the fight because their technique was better. Paddling technique is just as important to kayaking as fighting technique is to the martial arts.
I've studied paddling videos, read books, and attended workshops taught by the best. I've also paddled with serious racers who do their best to make every stroke count. My knowledge of the "perfect stroke" has a long way to go but I know enough to know that I need to improve my technique before I work on speed...or paddle with Brian.
Just last weekend, I paddled my tandem kayak on April 29, 2007. Prior to that, I hadn't paddled a kayak since September 17, 2006. That's over 7 months without kayaking! I knew my form would need work and my conditioning would be less than satisfactory.
I checked the weather on Thursday, May 3. The forecast called for mostly sunny, with a high near 72 and a calm wind becoming east around 5 mph. Sounded like perfect kayaking weather. I sent out an e-mail to some of my favorite paddlers and invited them to join me. With the weekend only two days away, I wasn't expecting anyone to be available but you never know.
On Friday, May 4, the forecast was mostly sunny with a high near 70 and a calm wind becoming south between 4 and 7 mph. Still great weather. I had a couple of people considering to take me up on my invitation.
I was up at 0700 on Saturday, May 5. The "maybes" turned out to be "nos." Oh well, maybe next time. I drove to Piscataway Park. The weather was sunny and cool but I was certain it would warm up nicely. I've never been to this park or paddled this part of the Potomac River so despite my primary goal of being to work on technique, I had a secondary goal of exploring.
I don't know how the park got its name. I'm guessing it is a Native American word. But to me, it sounds more like a product used to remove the odor of pet urine (piss cat away).
I spoke to a fisherman at the Farmington Landing launch site who had never seen a surf ski before.
I picked up a large snail shell and put it in my car. I'd clean it then varnish it later. See first photo at left.
I was off at 0915.
I paddled east (upstream) on Piscataway Creek. No, it didn't smell like urine. The creek got narrow and very scenic. See second and third photos at left. I passed a large beaver lodge.
There seemed to be an unusually large number of geese in the area.
I paddled as far up the creek as I could, 1.5 miles from the launch site. Then I paddled west along the north side of the creek. I passed Fort Washington Marina, the home to Atlantic Kayak Company. I noticed the marina had two boat ramps and a restaurant called Proud Mary. Might make for a nice after paddle stop for a future trip.
I kayaked north on the Potomac and passed Fort Washington Park. After seeing some of the photos of the fort taken from land, I think I got a much nicer view of it from the water.
There were numerous people out fishing, either from the land or in boats. But I didn't see any other kayakers.
I kept reminding myself why I was there as I concentrated on torso rotation, keeping the arms straight, not gripping the paddle too hard, reaching out front before planting the blade of the paddle in the water, removing the blade before it got past my hips, pumping the legs, repeat. It was all coming back to me. I was only paddling between 4.5 and 5 mph but I felt my technique was good considering it was early in the season.
I headed northeast on Swan Creek. I paddled as far as I could go which wasn't far. Not very interesting. Just nice homes. Not much for a nature lover like myself.
Dark clouds rolled in. The sun was gone and the temperature dropped.
Next, I paddled north on the Potomac until I got to Broad Creek. I paddled in on the southern side, passing Broadwater Estates. I explored the various tributaries which I found most interesting. I passed some old ruins of a large building where only two brick walls remained. I passed more beaver lodges. I stopped at an island and found some geese sitting on their nests. See fourth photo at left. Continuing upstream, the water became very clear. I went as far as I reasonably could then explored the other tributaries which were also quite scenic. See fifth photo at left. I saw a mammal swimming in the water; probably a muskrat. I paddled back to the Potomac on the north side of the creek.
Murphy's Law dictates that if you paddle into the wind going one direction, the wind will weaken, stop, or change direction on the way back. In this case, there was little wind when I paddled north but now that I was heading south on the Potomac, the wind was blowing strongly. The waves were usually not more than a foot high but I'm guessing the wind often got to 10 mph.
It started raining. So much for the forecast. Again Mr. Murphy was at work. When you don't bring an umbrella, it will rain. But in my case, I was wearing my farmer john wetsuit and an Under Armour heatgear top. It was adequate when I paddled last week so I figured it would be enough today. Unfortunately, I put too much faith in the meteorologist.
I was downright cold. I upped the notch on intensity to raise my body temperature. I had a good rhythm going and despite the wind, rain, chop, and faster paddling, I was still pleased with my form.
There were a few very scenic natural areas but most of the paddling was on wide rivers and/or near expensive homes.
I paddled to the Virginia side to Sheridan Point. I took a break and sat on a bench along the Mount Vernon Trail.
I crossed back over the Potomac onto the Maryland side. I rounded Mockley Point and paddled up Piscataway Creek again, this time on the southern side. After passing some islands, I saw a large number of big, dark birds. As I got closer, I noticed they were turkey vultures. I got off my boat to retrieve my camera but they flew away before I could get it. I'm guessing there were about 18, all fairly close together.
I landed back at Farmington, finishing just over 20 miles in just under 5 hours. Considering I made multiple stops to take photos, eat twice, and explore narrow, shallow tributaries at a snail's pace, I felt an overall average of 4 mph wasn't too bad though I wouldn't have gone nearly as far and probably a little slower had I been with my non-surfski friends. Despite such a long break from paddling, my muscle memory seemed to have kicked in. I was satisfied...cold but satisfied.
I spoke to another fisherman briefly before leaving. He asked how far I went. When I said 20 miles, he just shook his head. Ten years ago, I probably would have reacted the same.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Kayaking this year began where it left off last year. On September 17, 2006, Norma and I explored
Hunting Creek, a tributary on the east side of the
Patuxent (Pax) River, near the Charles County line. Today, on April 29, 2007, we explored the tributary on the opposite side of the Pax,
Swanson Creek. This was the last of the major tributaries for me to explore off the Pax between Central Avenue (route 214) in Prince George's County and Patuxent River Bridge/Prince Frederick Road (route 231) in Charles County...a section roughly 25 miles long!
I've recently began using BodyGlide anti-friction skin coating to prevent blisters. I put on my feet, just above the heels when hiking. I was told it might help prevent the skin from wearing off at the base of the thumb near the web between the thumb and forefinger. Norma frequently has this problem when paddling and I sometimes do. So we decided to give the BodyGlide a try.
We launched at 1030 from Hallowing Point then headed west on the south side of Patuxent River Bridge. We paddled by an osprey nest at the drawbridge. There was a beach on the west side suitable for launching in the future with parking for about 14 vehicles along the sides of the road just west of the bridge.
Next, we paddled north to Teague Point, seeing numerous birds. When we approached them, they took to flight all at once, as if communicating with each other via telepathy when to take off.
A 16 mph wind from the northwest made kayaking across Swanson Creek slow. We paddled into the wind to the north side to get some shelter from the trees.
As we neared PEPCO Nuclear Power Plant, we noticed that the tributary that feeds the plant to help cool the reactor was fenced off at the south end. I've been able to paddle a good distance on it from the north but never knew until today if I could approach from the other direction.
We saw probably about 16 swans throughout the day. Later I thought maybe the creek got its name because of its popularity amongst the swans. Probably not.
The creek narrowed and started to meander.
I saw a turtle on a log but before I could point it out, Norma said, "Look!" I was about to reply, "Yes, I see the turtle" until I looked up and realized she wasn't talking about the turtle. She was referring to a bald eagle flying overhead, fairly closely. We gazed in awe of its splendor until it was out of sight.
Unlike Hunting Creek, Swanson has much fewer trees. Mostly grassland which has its own beauty but we both prefer the trees. Perhaps because the trees act as walls and add to the mystery of what might lie ahead.
We stopped for lunch, eating roast beef, cheese, and pastrami sandwiches. There were two frogs and hundreds of small fish near where we ate. See first photo at left. Norma found a large tick which was disappointed she was wearing a neoprene wetsuit. See second photo at left.
We resumed paddling upstream but didn't get far. Too shallow.
Paddling downstream, we saw train tracks to our north, grass to our front, rear and sometimes the immediate sides, while trees were further off to the sides. Occassionally, in the trees to our south, we saw what looked like a deck. Seemed like an unusual place to build a deck. At another location, we saw a deck with a sign. We pulled over to investigate and found that the area to the south of Swanson Creek is public land with trails. One sign said it was the Patuxent River Critical Area, part of the Lower Patuxent River, Charles County watershed. What makes it a critical area? According to the sign, it is because it is land within 1000 feet of tidal waters or adjacent tidal wetlands. We explored for a few minutes and saw one person who said there was a parking lot nearby. Not sure how many trails exist but we saw two, one blazed blue and another marked red.
Heading back downstream, we pulled over at Patuxent River Natural Resource Management Area on the south side at the mouth, where the creek flows into the Pax. We hoped to match our good fortune at Hunting Creek last year by finding another shark tooth. No such luck.
The wind pushed us across the Pax quickly though it kept wanting to turn my boat to the south. Hence, I pretty much just paddled on the starboard side. Times like that make me wish I had a rudder.
We were done at 1455 after paddling 10.8 miles. Not bad for the first kayak trip of the season.
The BodyGlide worked. Neither of us had any skin worn off at the base of our thumbs. Looks like I've found yet another thing to add to the pockets of my personal floation device (PFD).
Our trip wasn't one of the more scenic paddles we've done but it was nonetheless enjoyable. And we're looking forward to many more over the next several months.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Patuxent River Canoeing
In preparation for the big Memorial Day weekend camping, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and biking weekend that Norma and I are planning, we decided to do some scouting at Patuxent River Park on April 14, 2007. The first part would be via canoe and the second on foot.
I've led beginners on a kayak trip but never on a canoe trip. I needed to know what beginners were capable of doing using rental boats. Norma provided me with the beginners, Lisa and Claudia, and I provided the route.
Though the day started sunny, it became overcast later in the morning. Highs were in the mid-50s. Rain was predicted by 1400 though it wasn't expected to get heavy until much later.
Jim, one of the park staff, helped us get the boats and gear. We launched from Jackson's Landing at 1110 then paddled south through Jug Bay. Low tide was at 0930 and Jim mentioned that the water seemed exceptionally low. This is just what I wanted since if there were any problems, I wanted to be aware of them today...not on Memorial Day.
Claudia and Lisa (see first photo at left) had only been canoeing once before several years ago, which made them beginners as far as I was concerned. Though not an experienced canoeist myself, I knew more than them so this was a chance for me to work on my public speaking. I went over safety, controlling the boat, turning, and working as a team.
Control was by far the hardest part. I think beginning canoeists work much harder than beginning kayakers since canoeists probably cover almost 50% more distance when going to the same destination as a kayaker. This is because of all the zig zagging that takes place. With two people in a boat, you'll almost always go off course. Then you have to get back on direction. But in doing so, you overcompensate because you don't count on the turning momentum of the boat taking you further than you want to go. So it seems that once the boat is halfway corrected, one should then just proceed to paddle straight. The turning momentum will do the rest of the work.
Fortunately, there was no power boat traffic. Staying near the shore was difficult because of all the mud that we kept pulling up due to the low water level. But we also didn't want to get near the dredged area in case power boats came along. We certainly weren't in a position to move out of their way efficiently.
After 1.5 miles, we reached Selby's Landing. Norma and I had been in the same boat with me in the back. Claudia and Lisa were in the same boat with Claudia in the back. We switched boats and positions then and twice more later so by the end of the day, everyone would have a chance to paddle with another person in different positions.
We paddled up Mattaponi Creek. About 200 meters north of the picnic tables which lay on the south side, we saw a beaver lodge. This was also our short cut on the return trip.
At the wooden bridge over the creek that is part of the Critical Area Driving Tour (CADT), we stopped to switch positions and boats again. I found several turtle egg shells on the shore. They obviously weren't from a bird because they weren't brittle. The ends curled in on themselves.
We made one more position/boat change at Selby's then made it back to the start at about 1400. Had we not taken the short cut, I'm guessing we would have made it back at 1410. Hence, my estimate was that beginners could paddle 6.5 miles in 3 hours (2.18 mph) on flat water with little wind in aluminum canoes. This time includes breaks. Not much different from my estimate of beginners in plastic recreational kayaks.
We ate lunch at an area overlooking the bay (see second photo at left) then visited the Rural Life Museum and the Duvall Tool Museum in the park. Though I've walked past them several times in the past, this is the first time I've been there when they were open.
Next, we did a scouting hike of the park. The route we walked is recorded at 4.8 mile route.
It started to rain lightly.
We saw a turtle shell but the inhabitant was dead. We also saw about 4 deer. Later, in the Black Walnut Creek Nature Study Area, Norma and I saw a muskrat swimming. It could have been a beaver but it looked a little thin to be a beaver.
We finished our hike in 2 hours.
Afterwards, we went out for A&W root beer. This was Lisa and Claudia's first taste of root beer which they liked.
Though there was nothing particularly strenuous about the day, we were all tired after having done so much. I expect this is what it will be like on the Memorial Day weekend event that Norma and I will lead. Play hard, eat much, and fall asleep quickly.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Patuxent River Cleanup at Patuxent River Park and Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary
31.25 pounds of trash per person per hour! That's a lot of trash...and that's just how much we collected from less than a mile stretch of the Patuxent River, 500 pounds total!
Lately, I've been working on finishing my garage. The drywall was up when I bought the place and I've been doing the spackling. Not just patching up nail holes but trying to make the tape seams unnoticeable and make things appear smooth. On March 31, 2007, I learned that finishing drywall is very similar to picking up trash on the Patuxent River...both are an endless task that could easily drive one insane. Just when I think the drywall looks good, I notice an imperfection. I spackle the flaw, let it dry, sand it, then think I'm done. But wait! Another spot that needs more joint compound. This can go on and on until all sanity is lost...along with several weekends. There comes a point where I just need to say I'm done and live with the result.
Collecting trash on the Patuxent River is like finishing drywall. At 0900, Chuck, Chris, Ralph, KaiCun, and I filled out waivers at Patuxent River Park. We met Stephanie (park naturalist) and Greg (park director). Stephanie loaned us three aluminum canoes, personal floation devices (PFDs), paddles, and gloves. She gave us some tips on canoeing. I passed out my own personal walkie-talkies and Ralph and I set our very high frequency (VHF) radios to the same channel. We discussed safety procedures, got our trash bags, were given some snacks by Stephanie, donned our PFDs, and launched from Jackson's Landing at 0930. Ralph and Chuck were in one canoe, Chris and KaiCun were in the second (see first photo at left), and I was alone in the third.
I've paddled with Ralph (see second photo at left) several times with the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA). He's been paddling canoes since he was 11. He's also led river cleanups. Chuck (see third photo at left) is an experienced white water kayaker. I've been kayaking for 9 years and have led several trash cleanups on land. This was my first cleanup on the water and the first event I've led with the Maryland Outdoor Club (MOC). Hopefully there will be many more.
Our group was small but what we lacked in size, we made up in motivation. I had a couple of last minute cancellations the day before the event. To start with such a small group and lose two the day prior is a problem. But Chris was in recruiting mode and managed to talk KaiCun into joining us. Way to go Chris!
We paddled north (upstream) on the Patuxent (Pax) River, stopping to pick up trash on the west (Prince George's County) side. I've paddled this area many times and never really noticed much trash. But I'd never gone ashore in this area. When we saw some trash from the water, we pulled our canoes onto land and picked it up. See fourth photo at left. But once we began walking around, we noticed much more trash hidden in the marshy grasslands. There was no way to see this litter unless you were on land and it isn't likely anyone would be on land in this area unless they paddled in. Most of the annual park cleanup is done on land. Hence I doubt the section we cleaned up had been touched in quite awhile. As the tide rose and fell, floods came and left, and winds pushed trash ashore, more and more just kept getting tangled in the grasses, only to be hidden until today.
It didn't take long before our bags were filling up. We'd clean up one area then paddle a little more upstream and clean up more. The land was extremely muddy...much more than I expected. Next year, I'll be sure to buy tall rubber boots.
An overwhelming majority of the litter was from bottles. Most of the bottles were glass. We found an unusually large number of balls. Ralph noted that most of the bottles we found had their tops on, which made them float. The glass bottles without tops were probably at the bottom of the river. Hence the litter we saw might have only been a fraction of what was actually there.
Ralph and Chuck saw a beaver den (see fifth photo at left) and an angry beaver swatting its tail on the water. Apparently, he didn't understand why we were there. Later, Ralph saw a snake. Unfortunately, I missed both.
Chris and KaiCun only planned to stay for the Patuxent River Park Cleanup so at 1100, I had Ralph and Chuck give their filled trash bags to Chris and KaiCun, then I took Chris and KaiCun back to Jackson's Landing (see sixth photo at left) while Ralph and Chuck continued to pick up litter until about 1130.
One of the park staff helped us unload our bags of trash. See seventh photo at left. He was amazed at how much the five of us collected in under 2 hours. He estimated it was 200 pounds! I thanked Chris and KaiCun for their participation then paddled back upstream to meet Ralph and Chuck. We landed at the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary pier at the west end of Railroad Bed Trail. There were numerous people helping clean the Sanctuary. One woman was wearing hip high waders. Obviously she knew what she was getting into.
My team walked west on Railroad Bed Trail then north on Otter Point Trail to the Visitor Center where we joined the rest of the cleanup crew for lunch. There were many families participating in the event.
From the Elaine M. Peiffer Overlook, I caught a great view of the Pax and its grassy marshlands. I even spotted a fellow kayaker in the distance. See eighth photo at left.
I saw my point of contact, Lindsay, who met us with a warm friendly greeting, provided more trash bags, and spoke to us about what areas still needed to be cleaned up. We agreed that we'd tackle the North Glebe Marsh, just north of the pier on the east (Anne Arundel County) side of the river.
Ralph, Chuck, and I were off again. See ninth photo at left and notice the Mount Calvert Historical and Archeological Park building on the left in the background. We expected the east side to be less contaminated with trash because of the way the downstream tide would naturally push things to the west, the long end of the bend. We were wrong. From 1300 to 1500, the three of us collected three tires and filled up all our trash bags. The litter on the east side seemed to be more confined to areas closer to the water and the land was less marshy and thorny which meant we could move around more easily. But despite what seemed like more solid land, I did manage to sink one shoe into two foot deep mud. Yuck! See tenth photo at left (taken by Ralph) for me loading my canoe with junk.
The weather forecast called for a chance of showers with a high near 62. The sun played peek-a-boo but showed itself more often than not. The temperature was great for a park cleanup and we received no rain. However, the wind was uncooperative, especially for paddling. With me paddling such a long canoe alone, I often found the bow of my boat grabbing the wind like a sail and turning me downwind. Paddling was slow, but unlike my previous paddling trips, that was only a secondary task.
We could have easily kept on picking up more trash. We ran out of bags and our boats held as much as we could safely fit in. This is what reminded me of finishing drywall. Picking up trash on the shores of the Pax is a never ending task. The more we look, the more we find. For the average passer-by, the river looks clean. But once you're in the grassy marshlands, it is hard to miss. Just when we think we've got it all, we find more and more and more. It is enough to drive one mad...just like finishing drywall. So it is good we were on a time limit. We were forced to stop. Otherwise we might have gone insane.
As we paddled back to the Sanctuary, my boat was so full of trash, there was barely enough room for me. I paddled slowly and made sure I didn't make any sharp turns since my canoe was now a little top heavy.
We unloaded our trash, estimating the three of us collected an additional 300 pounds of litter, bringing the day's total to 500 pounds! We put a canoe on a canoe cart then filled up the boat with our bags to haul them to the assembly area. Sanctuary staff made sure the trash was hauled off. We took one last photo before launching. See eleventh photo at left.
We paddled back to Patuxent River Park, finishing at about 1520. Pleased with our work, we changed clothes then went out for an early dinner at a Chinese restaurant called "Kitchen Number One."
Click thumbnails to enlarge.